Melissa Appelt is originally from Ames, Iowa, but has lived in east Glenview since 1994. Melissa worked for more than 30 years as a grant writer for the Chicago Botanic Garden and Mid-America Arts Alliance, a regional arts organization in Kansas City. She became involved with Interfaith Action of Evanston through its Advocacy Committee and is now the president of the board of directors. With a mission to serve homeless and hungry people, promote interfaith dialogue, and advocate for the people it serves, Interfaith Action is a member of Joining Forces and works closely with Connections for the Homeless.
Melissa’s activities in assisting a Syrian refugee family, headed by a widowed mother of four, led her to join the Interfaith Action advocacy committee. Involvement with the family helped her understand first-hand the challenges of finding affordable housing and the very real impacts of spending nearly 60% of household income on rent. Melissa’s own experiences as a single parent, even with an extensive safety net, also contributed to her understanding and commitment to help. The advocacy committee allowed her to take action in the affordable housing arena.
Joining Forces’ work to encourage greater participation by Evanston area anchor institutions in affordable housing is one of Melissa’s primary interests. She also appreciates how the Joining Forces’ working committee has allowed members to claim roles with which they feel most comfortable and capable. While others speak on behalf of Joining Forces or conduct research, Melissa has primarily been a writer on the committee. Additionally, in support of the Margarita Inn, Melissa and Interfaith Action launched a petition drive for faith communities, generating more than 600 signatures. She has written a letter to the community in The Roundtable and advocated for the Margarita at a Land Use Commission meeting and individually with elected officials. She fears that if Evanston loses the Margarita, Interfaith Action and other Evanston resources for homeless people would become overwhelmed trying to compensate for the lack of shelter for these residents.
Melissa believes that affordable housing and addressing homelessness combined are one of the primary issues of our time, and that people/communities need to address it. She mentioned how people in the 1950s thought they were solving homelessness by developing housing projects, but neglect and lack of funding led to their demise. Melissa attributes part of this to a decline in commitment to community and a commensurate rise in self-interest, beginning in the 1980s.
Factoring affordable housing into Evanston’s comprehensive plan and engaging anchor institutions in this effort are critical to improving affordable housing in Evanston, according to Melissa, as is building a community of care. Melissa’s refugee family is an example of what a circle of care can accomplish. The mother and two eldest children in this Syrian family have become US citizens and voted in the last election. All three have jobs, and the eldest will graduate from college in 2024. Despite this success, they continue to struggle to find affordable housing for their family of five.