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FIRSTHAND: HOMELESS Launches Monday, February 19, 2024

WTTW explores homelessness in a documentary series; expert talks; text, audio, and visual journalism; and community conversations

For immediate release
Chicago, IL - January 11, 2024

Homelessness is a widespread and complex issue in Chicago and other American cities, with no quick answers or simple solutions. While the public, media, and even policymakers often look away from the problem, WTTW will spend a year focused on the challenging experiences and unique perspectives of unhoused people across Chicago’s neighborhoods in FIRSTHAND: HOMELESS, beginning February 19, 2024 at

“Over the course of the coming year, WTTW will document and share the hopes and challenges of people across Chicago’s communities who are experiencing or facing homelessness,” said Sandra Cordova Micek, President and CEO of WTTW. “Through documentary storytelling, news reporting, and community engagement, Firsthand: Homeless will demonstrate WTTW’s purpose, mission, and values as a community-focused, public service media organization.”


Documentaries will introduce five unhoused people who reflect the diverse and unique challenges of homelessness in Chicago. Watch the trailer >>

Yolanda, grandmother of four, lives with her fiancé Clarence in a tent under the Damen Avenue bridge, in the shadow of a Costco and a block from the abandoned Lathrop Homes where she once lived. She copes with health issues and spends her days panhandling for loose change on the street above her head. Despite it all, Yolanda shares what she has with others, stays true to her faith, and remains hopeful that better times are coming.

Jackie found herself in need of housing after an altercation with her family. The challenges of being an unhoused mother led her to A Safe Haven. With the organization’s help, Jackie can work part time, keep her children in school, and try to live a somewhat ‘normal life’ while living in a homeless shelter.

Dan has experienced homelessness for more than 12 years, since he was evicted from his suburban home. The streets of downtown Chicago soon became his new home, but navigating life on the streets is challenging. Avoiding crimes against the homeless, and tackling an ongoing heroin addiction are immediate concerns.

Brian spent years moving in and out of the prison system and cites a lack of stable, affordable housing as a reason for why he kept reoffending. He sought help, and is now employed as part of the CTA’s Second Chance program. Thankful for his job and transitional housing at St. Andrew’s Court, Brian works with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to help others in his situation.

Kimberly, with her toddler Jasmine, is part of a transitional living program after the nursing school she had been attending pulled a large portion of her financial aid when she became pregnant. As she struggles with daunting mental health issues, she advocates for homeless youth and dreams of a better life for Jasmine.


Throughout 2024, WTTW will publish text, visual, and audio reporting covering homelessness across the Chicago region. And at 5:30 and 10:00 pm on Monday, February 19, WTTW’s flagship news program Chicago Tonight will present a WTTW News special episode dedicated to the topic of homelessness in Chicago.

Partnerships and Community Engagement

In partnership with the Night Ministry, All Chicago, and the Chicago Public Library, WTTW will present community screenings and conversations about homelessness in Chicago and Illinois throughout the year. These events will invite residents, thought leaders, and policymakers to engage in dialogue and explore ways to effect positive change. Activities will begin with a kickoff event at the WTTW studios on Monday, February 19 at 6:30 pm.


Through the lens of personal experiences and expertise, four extraordinary people offer reflections, personal stories, new ideas, and solutions for addressing the challenges and opportunities facing people experiencing homelessness in Chicago:

“Tiny Homes, Big Solutions” by Tracy Baim, co-founder of the Pride Action Tank and Windy City Times
“Building Our Way Out” by Nicole Bahena, Vice President of Community Partnerships at All Chicago
“Invisible No More” by Shelly Tucciarelli, Executive Director of Visionary Ventures
“Finding a Way Home” by Sharday Hamilton, Youth Board Fellow for the National Runaway Safeline

Discussion and Resource Guide

WTTW will publish and distribute a discussion guide written by Fran Sterling that will serve as a companion to the project, providing direction and prompts for meaningful discussion and engagement across Chicago’s communities.

The Firsthand: Homeless documentaries were produced by Mario Tharpe; directed by Teresa Crawford, Ines Sommer, Mario Tharpe, Edgar Vargas, and Teresa White; and executive produced by Dan Protess and Anne Gleason. Firsthand Talks were produced by Judith McCray. Community engagement efforts are led by Vice President of Community Engagement & DEI Tim Russell.

Lead support for Firsthand: Homeless is provided by Ann and Rich Carr. Major support is provided by The Knight Family Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Edwardson Family Foundation; Joel M. Friedman, President, Alvin H. Baum Family Fund; and other generous sponsors.


WTTW is the PBS member station in Chicago, committed to creating and presenting unique media content across distinct television and digital channels – WTTW, WTTW Prime, WTTW Create, WTTW World, WTTW PBS Kids 24/7,, and the PBS/WTTW video app. Recognized for award-winning journalism and local productions – such as Chicago Tonight, Chicago Stories, Firsthand, The Most Beautiful Places in Chicago, and Chicago By ‘L’ – WTTW presents the very best in public affairs, arts and culture, nature and science, history and documentary, and children’s public media content. Connect with WTTW on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.