35 Years of Hope: Jackie Edens

Jackie Edens has devoted her career to helping Chicago’s homeless and disadvantaged. She started working for the city as a Mobile Crisis Intervention Worker in 1975, when the city relied exclusively on nonprofit organizations to aid the homeless. The police department assigned her to work on social service-related cases.

Jackie met Sr. Connie in her next role as Shelter Clearinghouse Coordinator. At the time, placing homeless individuals into shelters was challenging. With organizations focused on different populations and catchment areas, it was difficult to know what shelters had available beds on any given night without making multiple phone calls to overwhelmed providers.

“Sr. Connie was not happy about getting calls when her shelter was full,” Jackie said. “She did not suffer fools gladly.” Jackie developed a Shelter Clearinghouse to streamline the process.

Following a stint as Assistant Director of Legislative & Community Affairs, Jackie was named Director of Homeless Services. Her relationship with Sr. Connie blossomed when they were both appointed to the Chicago Task Force on Homelessness.

“We became fast friends. She was the chair of the task force and had the perspectives of a businessperson, a provider and a fundraiser. You’ve never met a nun like her, that’s for sure.”

Sr. Connie asked Jackie to join St. Martin de Porres’ Board of Directors, where she served for 20 years.

“I don’t remember a time when the shelter wasn’t at capacity,” recalls Jackie. “They had to show tough love. When you have 120 people in a building, it can just take a few people to upset that balance of serenity. Sr. Therese was the quiet calm. She had a different way of laying down the law.”

Jackie’s next position was as Assistant Commissioner, Division of Family Support Services, followed by her final job with the city as Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development. For eight years, she consulted on workforce development and homeless services. In 2012, she joined the Board of Inner Voice, a homeless services nonprofit for individuals, families and veterans, and has led the agency since September of that year.

As a CEO with a board to answer to, Jackie says “part of my tenacity is due to watching Sr. Connie deal with a situation and getting the job done. She showed me how to take a bite and another bite and another bite, always moving forward.”