Community Case Manager at Connections for the Homeless, Ernie Calderon, is one of the 23 people who went to Springfield with the advocacy team to lobby for Senate Bill 1476 and more funding for housing services in Illinois. He works at the drop-in centers at Dewey and Hilda’s Place, serving as the first point of contact with Connections’ clients to help them with finding medical insurance, getting driver’s licenses, attending court and doctor’s appointments, etc.
Ernie grew up in Bakersfield, California. In his last quarter of high school, Ernie volunteered at a homeless center to tutor homeless children, which was his introduction to homelessness and a bit of a precursor to the work he’s doing today. He went to college at California State University Bakersfield, where he majored in political science and gained experience with campaign work. This campaign work involved knocking on people’s doors and speaking to council people to support particular campaigns. Similar to his volunteer work in high school, Ernie helped to establish an after-school program at a middle school as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
About seven years ago, Ernie moved to Edgewater, in Chicago, from Berkeley, California. He just earned his Master's of Social Work (MSW) degree in May of 2023 from Loyola University with an emphasis on direct service and advocacy. This aligns with what interested him about joining the advocacy team on our trip to Springfield because Ernie believes that policy work is just as important as direct work, whether we’re advocating for more funding or trying to expand people’s access to resources.
His favorite part of the lobbying trip was when the group got to meet with house majority leader Robyn Gabel and Illinois state senator Laura Fine because Connections staff had the opportunity to talk about our hands-on experiences with homelessness and the things we see from this line of work. Ernie found it encouraging that these legislators acknowledged how important it was for us to have these stories to share, as well as how such a large group was able to show up and advocate for this cause. Seeing what happens with laws at the state level puts what we see and do in Evanston on a day-to-day basis into perspective.
Ernie said that he’d volunteer to lobby in Springfield again, if given the opportunity, because this was a great experience for him and advocating is just as important as the work he does every day.