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Republished from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless blog.
Veronica Cullinan-Burnison is an AmeriCorps VISTA Organizer for Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH).

I am no stranger to the issues that many of the people we work with face. I was born in Volusia County, Florida, but when I was very young, my mom and I moved back to her hometown of Chicago after my parents separated. With only one income supporting us, we struggled to make ends meet and find stable housing. My grandparents took me in, but faced many obstacles because they were not my legal guardians, even with simple tasks like enrolling me in school.

When I was in third grade, my mom made the incredibly selfless decision to grant my grandparents legal guardianship of me. I feel lucky to have had the support of my whole family growing up: my grandparents and mom, as well as my aunts and cousins. I know that many people experiencing housing instability face more challenges than I did, but nevertheless, my upbringing has been the root of my passion to end homelessness.

I was introduced to CCH while earning my bachelor’s degree in social work at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. As an organizing intern during the 2015-16 school year, I quickly learned that I have a passion for community organizing. Through my internship, I facilitated 27 Speakers Bureau events and trained students from Chicago Public Schools to effectively speak to their legislators and advocate for homeless funding and policies.

Veronica with student leaders, speaking with their State Rep. Frances Hurley (D-Chicago) in Springfield.

One of the biggest events I helped to organize was a sit-in and rally at Governor Bruce Rauner’s Executive Mansion in Springfield to demand funding for homeless services. Leading more than 50 Niles Township high school students, we rallied outside the Executive Mansion while older homeless youth leaders held a sit-in inside. A first-of-its-kind event at the Executive Mansion, our action was successful in getting media attention.

After concluding my internship, I continued to travel to Springfield with CCH to lobby for homeless youth funding. To date, I’ve participated in six advocacy trips.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA at CCH, I will work to build the capacity of the Speakers Bureau. Led by passionate leaders who share their personal and advocacy experiences, the Speakers Bureau graces audiences at schools, universities, religious and civic groups across the Chicagoland area. Through the Speakers Bureau, I have learned so much about what homelessness can look like and what it means for the people who are experiencing it. Our leaders’ dedication to ending homelessness is inspiring and crucial, and I am excited to engage the greater community in efforts to end homelessness.

— Veronica Cullinan-Burnison, AmeriCorps VISTA Organizer at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless