Renee Adelson Kass and Scott Adelson come together with a commitment to address racial and economic inequities
Renee Adelson Kass and Scott Adelson

Renee Adelson Kass has vivid memories of learning about the importance of community at Francis W. Parker School, a progressive Chicago day school. Infused with traditional academic subjects—social studies or history—was the teaching that each citizen has a responsibility to contribute to the vitality of community and the well-being of its citizens. 

Later, as an early childhood educator at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Renee worked with children at all stages of early development, from infants to toddlers, and their mothers. These parents and their children have remained a concern for Renee: “Parents distracted by constant financial worries, who also bear the psychological stresses and fears facing any parent, need a different kind of support; they need a strong, supportive community.”

Back in her hometown of Chicago, educators at Chicago Public Schools share her concerns, particularly for the 18,000 CPS students who experience homelessness each year. In 2017, district officials approached the University of Chicago’s Poverty Lab to identify ways to better support these students and their families. Headed by Executive Director Carmelo Barbaro, the Poverty Lab works to expand economic opportunity for young people in communities that have been harmed by historic discrimination and disinvestment. The Lab’s efforts span traditional policy domains, including education and housing, under the guidance of Faculty Director Marianne Bertrand, a leading economist.

Through her son, Scott Adelson, who is Co-President of Houlihan-Lokey (HLI), Renee became connected with the Poverty Lab’s work. Scott, who had made major gifts to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he earned an MBA, was drawn to the mission of the Poverty Lab. He understands the value of using big data to understand patterns and trends that predict economic challenges and business opportunities. He was drawn to the opportunity to apply the same rigorous, data-driven approach to issues his mother cares so much about: alleviating barriers for the children of parents struggling to provide the financial and social supports young people need to thrive.

Scott’s confidence in data and belief in a systemic approach to addressing racial and economic inequities led to a generous commitment of support for the Poverty Lab. With Scott’s generous support through the Adelson Foundation, the Poverty Lab will release a report in the coming weeks that details the extent of housing instability in Chicago communities, its effects on CPS students, and the impact of previous interventions. The report combines big data with insights from school principals and students themselves, and will offer a roadmap for policymakers and others urgently seeking novel approaches to address persistent problems associated with homelessness.

“The commitment of partners like Scott and Renee is vital to gaining a better understanding of the challenges facing families who experience homelessness—and to informing recommendations for intervention and support services,” says Barbaro. 

Poverty Lab’s work with CPS extends the growing base of new knowledge about student and family homelessness gained from previous Lab studies.

As Scott notes, “historically, policy work around homelessness has been based on surveys developed 50 years ago. The Poverty Lab team applies scholarship and expertise to design new models and solutions. Supporting this innovation in social action is an ideal investment in a future that honors my mother’s lifelong commitment to supporting mothers and children.”