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Human Relations Commission struggles to update mission

Evanston’s Human Relations Commission once did “some very spectacular things,” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, told the Human Services Committee this week.

She said it was deeply involved in fair housing issues in Evanston decades ago and instigated “an enormous groundbreaking lawsuit against a local real estate firm.”

But the commission appears to have had difficulty in recent years finding a role for itself.

Commission Co-chair Joan Raisner said the commission has been working for over a year to set up a volunteer mediation program that would help resolve disputes among neighbors that don’t involve law violations. “We want to promote civility, tolerance and resilience,” Raisner said.

But when asked by Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, how many cases the commission has handled, Raisner admitted it hasn’t handled any yet.


Evanston’s Human Relations Commission once did “some very spectacular things,” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, told the Human Services Committee this week.

She said it was deeply involved in fair housing issues in Evanston decades ago and instigated “an enormous groundbreaking lawsuit against a local real estate firm.”

But the commission appears to have had difficulty in recent years finding a role for itself.

Commission Co-chair Joan Raisner said the commission has been working for over a year to set up a volunteer mediation program that would help resolve disputes among neighbors that don’t involve law violations. “We want to promote civility, tolerance and resilience,” Raisner said.

But when asked by Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, how many cases the commission has handled, Raisner admitted it hasn’t handled any yet.

The commission applied for a slice of the city’s share of federal Community Development Block Grant funds a year ago to help fund the mediation program, but was turned down, and then decided to try to recruit mediators and establish the program on its own.

Rainey said the commission has suffered from the elimination of the job of human relation director at the city.

“The commission needs staff leadership,” Rainey said, “It’s very burdensome to ask of this commission something we ask no other commission to do — to lead themselves, basically.”

“But we’re at a different place and time,” Jean-Baptiste said, adding that even in the last few years before the human relation director’s job was eliminated the commission “was going through its own kind of reassessment.”

Jean-Baptiste suggested the commission should focus on youth problems, noting a city survey that suggested youths from different segments of the community fieel alienated from one another.

Raisner and other commissioners said the nine-member group has been handicapped by several vacancies that have made it difficult to find a quorum for meetings.

She said the group has devoted much of its efforts recently to calling employers to encourage them to participate in the city’s youth jobs program.

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