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Covid Surge, Heartland Access and Moving Forward…

I had a meeting with Maria Kenney today. She’d apparently been having issues with her Heartland Alliance phone which is now resolved so she missed some messages I had texted to her and the week prior she was on a vacation but we are back in contact. That being said we are facing more delays getting me access to move forward with the two avenues of engagement I’ve been advocating for. Some of this is due in part to Covid and some to just how things need to run up and down the chain of command/communication at the UC shelters.

Regarding the letters written by the children that I was reacting to during my last visit at the ICC. While Maria thinks this is still a great idea and ultimately isn’t a large ask on my part, we are now in a potential logistical quagmire due to the current Chicago Covid numbers combined with the fact that there are now no kids at the UC shelters other than two little kids at CHAP. The reason this is an issue is that due to the high covid numbers it doesn’t make sense to have anyone on site at any of these shelters if there aren’t any kids to be taking care of. I had asked if it was possible for someone to go into the ICC and get some of the letters that are currently there in the teachers classrooms but there’s some concern that because these are personal belongings there could be some issue. What it seems like is they want to gather the letters and make sure they are accounted for in a more proper way to ensure everything is inventoried and that people can produce the letters to one person on site who gathers them all for me. With the Covid situation they’ve moved to a very strict work model where they don’t want anyone on site unless absolutely necessary. So basically Maria thinks that I will have to wait until either they have children in the centers again which would require staff onsite (which she thinks might actually be happening again relatively soon) or the covid numbers get better and Heartland changes policy to have staff back on site without children.

I also followed up on the proposal to start having conversations with the staff directly. Ideally these would be in person recorded conversations/interviews but of course that’s not possible right now with the current covid numbers. Knowing that I pivoted to requesting we start by getting me in contact with staff to do zoom conversations which could then later lead to something more in person, it could be fine just on zoom or this engagement could just lead me down another path through our conversations. Regardless of where it goes or what it becomes it seems clear that a virtual engagement with the staff is all that’s even possible in the moment. I made note that my wife who is currently working remotely as a UC shelter staff spends a fair amount of time watching documentaries, doing online trainings, reading books, and participatinoing in virtual cultural presentations with other staff. The staff need things to engage with that’s related to their work while they are working from home. It was through this lens that I suggested to Maria that online conversations with me might in fact be something beneficial (and different) for staff while they are doing virtual work. Maria seemed to agree but said they need to confirm with James Lobianco which has to go through Thomas Perry. My chain of communication goes Maria < Thomas < James. Apparently James has been pretty along with Dawnya Underwood (who’ve I’ve not met) with some projects and that’s also delayed getting a green light on my previous proposal to work with staff.

So Maria has said we will touch base next Tuesday and she will have to talk with Thomas and may have a go ahead solution on the letters as that doesn’t need to go any farther than Thomas. I may just be getting confirmation that things need to wait but we’ll see. Maria will also be asking Thomas to touch base with James about the staff engagement moving forward virtually. Fingers crossed. While I was writing this it occurred to me that what I should do is propose to Maria that I do a series of presentations on my work and/or photography engaging with topics related to the work UC shelters are doing. This would absolutely be in the wheelhouse of an activity that makes sense for the staff working remotely. It would be a great introduction to all the staff for me and for them to learn about me and what I’m doing. To be honest it wouldn’t be possible to do a staff wide presentation during normal times with everyone having to take care of the kids normally so this is actually a really good opportunity. I think this is also a very small ask from Maria and Thomas and could get a green light relatively fast. I could then use that presentation to the staff (probably a couple presentations as there are staff working different shifts) to then invite the staff for more one on one conversations after that gets approval from James. I actually don’t know why I didn’t consider this before.

In other developments I did have a meeting with Celeste recently which happened after I last spoke with Judy. Celeste was very kindly looking into whether there was any possibility of getting me access to the RICS sites where I had been visiting before but it’s looking like that’s also under the same restrictions from Heartland in general due to Covid and they are currently reshuffling around the building so things aren’t in a state where they think it makes sense to have anyone in there. Judy additionally thinks that I should continue to focus on the work I’ve been doing at the UC shelters and continue to drill down there. While I am very interested in all the other programs I visited, I think Judy’s really correct in that my project will be much more defined and engaging if I continue to focus here on the UC shelters so I will continue to do so.

I’m still reading articles, a new graphic novel Judy recommended, and doing general research (hence my more dry and book reportish blog posts). I’ve been trying to think of ways where I can respond to all that research and reading in more personal ways and something has been stuck in my head the last week or so. All of these kids are making incredible journeys to get to the US. Many of them transiting through dangerous places where just the terrain can be treacherous. I keep trying to imagine what these landscapes feel like. I’m thinking of trying to make some images in a studio environment that simulates these spaces… or at least what I imagine them to feel like. This isn’t something I’d normally do photographically but I think that’s a good thing.

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