Once homeless herself, woman leads COD symposium to help others

  • A one-time senior executive in the mortgage industry, Jill Markussen lost her job and home but is now back on her feet working for DuPage County Senior Services. In an effort to get out the message that people like her can become homeless, she's organizing the second annual "New Face of Homelessness Symposium" at the College of DuPage.

    A one-time senior executive in the mortgage industry, Jill Markussen lost her job and home but is now back on her feet working for DuPage County Senior Services. In an effort to get out the message that people like her can become homeless, she's organizing the second annual "New Face of Homelessness Symposium" at the College of DuPage. Daily Herald File Photo

  • Jill Markussen and her children Jasmin, 14, Franco, 11, and Joey, 13, right, have started Project Flipmode to assist those facing homelessness and other crises.

    Jill Markussen and her children Jasmin, 14, Franco, 11, and Joey, 13, right, have started Project Flipmode to assist those facing homelessness and other crises. Courtesy of Jill Markussen

 
 
Updated 10/10/2011 11:42 AM

Jill Markussen was a senior executive in the mortgage industry, but her company filed for bankruptcy in 2007 and all employees got the pink slip.

Months later, she and her four youngest children lost their home and entered transitional housing provided by Glen Ellyn-based Bridge Communities.

 

In an effort to start fresh and with the support of Bridge, Markussen decided to go back to school. She already enjoyed volunteering at nursing homes, so she thought she could start a new career in the human services field.

One class she took was "Introduction to Human Services," which touched on the topic of homelessness, among others.

For many students in the class, homelessness meant the "mentally ill, bag ladies and winos," Markussen said.

"It's not families. It's not suburbanites," she said. "It's usually (people) under the bridge."

But for Markussen, being homeless was a very real experience, and her professor, Maryann Krieglstein, encouraged her to share it with the rest of the class.

"She finally came out and said, 'I'm homeless.' People were shocked because they carried all these myths about bag ladies," Krieglstein said. "Here was someone who looked like them. It was really a wake-up call for our students."

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It was that experience that spurred Markussen to organize the "New Face of Homelessness Symposium" at COD last year, an event meant to raise awareness about homeless populations that don't fit the stereotype.

This year's symposium is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12, at the College of DuPage.

The keynote speaker is Karen Wells, vice president of nutrition and menu strategy at McDonald's USA, who will discuss how she overcame near homelessness and poverty.

Other speakers include representatives from Bridge Communities, the DuPage County Sheriff's Department, NCO Youth and Family Services and Youth Outlook.

Markussen left Bridge in August 2010 soon after graduating from COD. Now 49, she works for DuPage County Senior Services and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology from Governors State University. She rents a two-flat in downtown Wheaton where she lives with her three youngest children.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Markussen is now focused on helping people through situations like hers. This year, she started Project Flipmode, a support organization for individuals and families facing homelessness and other crises.

The nonprofit was named in honor of Markussen's daughter Tanya, whose nickname was "Flipmode." She died at age 24 after dealing with several medical issues throughout her life.

Each month, the group sponsors a family in need with donations and prayer.

"They're surrounded by a whole group of people they don't know that supports them," Markussen said. "There's no way my kids and I would've come through it without the love and support we had."

Telling her story was hard at first, but she says the more she talked about it, the more it helped "others to realize what's going on."

"It's not about us anymore," Markussen said. "It's about what people like us can go through."

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