My Bittersweet Return to Joliet

Calling attention to family homelessness

Diane Nilan
3 min readOct 5, 2022


My van/home parked outside the former Joliet Franciscan Motherhouse, now part of the University of St. Francis.
My van/home parked outside the former Joliet Franciscan Motherhouse, now part of the University of St. Francis. (Photo Diane Nilan)

Hey, Joliet! I’m coming back. You might not know what I did before I left in 1990. My return needs to get your attention.

I’m coming back to call attention to family homelessness in Joliet. When I left decades ago, family homelessness was just starting to inch up. The Will County PADS shelter I helped start, now Daybreak Center, run by Joliet Catholic Charities, attempted to meet needs of adults, and a few families, experiencing homelessness. Since then, family homelessness has skyrocketed.

Joliet District 86 identified 2.5% of their students experience homelessness, about 2,500. Keep in mind that number doesn’t include babies, toddlers, youth on their own not in school, or parents. That’s a lot of people with nowhere to go. But Daybreak Shelter cannot serve that many families, so where do they go? That’s one of the things I’ll talk at my book event.

Seventeen years ago I started a unique one-woman nonprofit, HEAR US Inc. Since then, I’ve lived in a small van and traveled cross country to chronicle family homelessness in non-urban areas. Cities like Joliet. Rural communities. Resort areas. Small towns. I’ve interviewed parents, kids, school personnel, elected officials and homeless agency staff. What’s alarming (but not surprising to me) — everywhere I’m hearing the same things:

  • homelessness is skyrocketing, so are rents and evictions;
  • we don’t have any (enough) emergency shelters;
  • utility costs, security deposits and rents are huge barriers for many families, especially those trying to get out of homelessness.

If you’ve tried to ignore homelessness, or just think it’s not something that will happen to you or your loved ones, or you find it too depressing, then I urge you to come to my presentation

Wednesday, October 12, 7:00 pm, at the University of St. Francis San Damiano Hall (in the former Motherhouse where I used to roam).

Those who care about people experiencing homelessness because you work with them, or want to know more so you can help will find this worthwhile, too!



Diane Nilan

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 18 yrs. on US backroads.