Mark Milligan

By
March 2013 View more

BRIDGE Communities Offers Hope
to Homeless Families

Mark Milligan was helping his church host an overnight shelter for the homeless when he noticed the surprising number of single women with children staying the night. “I had a moment of clarity,” he said. “I had been looking for the solution to the macro problem of homelessness, which of course, was out of my control. While I could not singlehandedly stop homelessness, perhaps I could help one family,” he said.

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The philosophy launched Bridge Communities, a successful transitional housing, non-profit organization which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. With the help of more than 40 faith-based and community action partner organizations, Bridge has helped nearly 1,000 homeless and struggling families achieve self-reliance with transitional housing, mentoring, employment counseling, and needed social services on a one-to-one basis.

Bridge Communities estimates that there are 45,000 people living in poverty in DuPage County with the average age being 8 years old. “People often assume homeless are all single men with substance abuse problems,” said Milligan, co-founder and current president of Bridge Communities. “Many are families who had a life trauma like illness or unemployment that threw them into poverty.” When Milligan first got involved in helping the homeless in the 1980s, transitional housing in DuPage County was only available for up to 21 days. Milligan believed families needed longer to change their life situation.

The Apartment Project

In 1988, he planted the seed that would become Bridge Communities by launching a long-term family transitional housing program at the First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn. They called it “The Apartment Project.” “Our goal for the family was simple: for them to save enough money to pay for a first month’s rent and a security and utility deposit, to get a place of their own,” said Milligan.

Before long, other faith-based and community action groups were launching similar transitional housing programs. By 1992, the “Apartment Project” had assumed leadership of an existing, but struggling, non-profit named Bridge Communities and built it into the umbrella organization which exists today.

Working in Partnership

Bridge Communities and their partners work together to get needy families back on their feet with financial support and mentoring. Each Bridge partner typically supports one to 10 client families for a two-year period in a safe, affordable apartment, or shared-equity owned condominium owned by Bridge. Bridge Communities provides case managers and support services, conducts volunteer training, and owns and operates more than 100 transitional housing units. Meanwhile, Bridge partners provide hefty volunteer power to fundraise for their family’s rent, utilities, child care and living expenses, and gather donations of household items, furniture, and automobiles. Volunteer mentors meet with the families each week to teach life-skills like budgeting, financial planning, and parenting skills and connect them to tutoring, employment counseling and other Bridge services.

Partners like Naperville-based Families Helping Families stress education as a route to self-sufficiency. They help remove the barriers that keep their clients from reaching their educational goals, by providing scholarships and tutoring.

Milligan is grateful to all the partners who advance the mission of Bridge Communities, including Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville, which has graduated 45 transitional housing families since 2009. Program Manager Jack Flowers said families leave the program with three things: a successful full-time job; reduced debt; and enough funds for a down payment or security deposit on a living space. He said the volunteers benefit too. “It makes us aware of joblessness and the challenges of trying to support a family on a low income,” said Flowers.

For more information on Bridge Communities, visit www.bridgecommunities.org.