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On a Personal Mission to End Homelessness

Nonie Brennan, DePaul University’s American Society for Public Administration alumni award winner, serves as chief executive officer of All Chicago, a nonprofit organization that works with a vision of “Making Homeless History.”

She also works as a part-time faculty member at the School of Public Service. She graduated from SPS in 2007, and she earned a Doctor in management from Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. Her research focused on nonprofit collaboration.

Brennan talked with us about her focus on homelessness, her work at All Chicago and more. 

Please discuss your role at All Chicago.

I’m the CEO. And as such, I’m the lead staff person of the organization. My job is to set the vision for the organization and move it toward that vision. My role is big-picture high level, strategic in nature.

How does your organization work?

We have three specific program areas. One: The Emergency Fund, which focuses on homelessness prevention and provides immediate financial assistance. Two: Chicago Alliance, focusing on strengthening the city’s homeless system. Three: The Learning Center, which provides training, technical assistance and research around homelessness. Our organization was designed to provide backbone support to Chicago’s homeless system, and we work hand in hand with the City’s Department of Family and Support Services to execute Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness: Plan 2.0. There’s no question we’re making a difference. We are very close to ending veterans’ homelessness, and we are now attacking chronic homelessness. We are working to change the system and make sure we have established an environment in Chicago where everybody has a home regardless of where they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going. I won’t be satisfied until that happens.

What inspired you to focus on homelessness?

I came from a family that had a deep commitment to social justice. Both of my parents have had histories of working in communities of poverty or low income. My father was homeless as a teenager, and so our family had a great commitment to the issues that revolved around or connected to poverty.  I feel I have a responsibility to be a voice, to provide a voice, for people who have not had the opportunities I’ve had in life. This has been an important role for me, because I have the privilege of being able to address a very important community issue and address it in a positive way.

In what ways did the SPS program help prepare you?

It helped me think differently about management. It helped to develop my analysis skills, and it provided insight into issues related to management. Every day, I think about lessons I learned in DePaul’s School of Public Service that are very relevant to my daily work.

The other thing that I really appreciate about DePaul is the spirit of St. Vincent DePaul that is very prominent in the culture of the school, and I have found that the lessons that we learn from St. Vincent DePaul are important and meaningful lessons that we can take through our careers. He was an intriguing and important leader that can help guide our community work.

Please discuss your focus as an SPS instructor on nonprofit collaboration.

In addressing the issue of homelessness in Chicago, we come at this from a collaborative-impact approach. We know that the only way that a major problem such as homelessness is resolved is to bring everybody together, where everybody shares a commitment to shared goals.

We measure our progress towards meeting those goals with a common database, we employ a variety of activities that keep us focused on those goals, we work hard to communicate consistently and openly, and we have an organization that provides the backbone support to keep this work moving forward.

I see every day the challenges and successes of Collective Impact, and I also see how far we have come and recognize we got here by working together.​