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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

Rockford Gears Up For Annual Homeless Count

Yvonne Boose
Empty chairs representing Rockford's homeless people who died in 2020.

The annual tally of people who are homeless in the Rockford region is going to be more challenging this year. That’s due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

 

Rockford city officials and partner agencies are gearing up for the "point-in-time count." The survey of people experiencing homelessness takes place once a year over a 24-hour period. The PIT covers Winnebago, Boone and DeKalb counties.

Angie Walker is a housing advocate with the City of Rockford. She says the coronavirus adds a level of difficulty. 

 

“My agency, we don't really use volunteers a lot,” said Walker. “But a lot of our partner agencies do, the shelters do, our dropping day centers do, our donation centers do. And that's been something that's been really tough this year.”

 

Walker says volunteers tend to be older and shelters don’t want to risk getting them sick. What’s more, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loosened some of the restrictions, like doing a headcount without the usual survey. 

 

The survey is relatively bare bones and asks questions about race, age and length of homelessness.  

 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, HUD says it expects the numbers this year will not be comparable to past counts. The Rockford count kicks off Monday afternoon. 

 

  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.