Patricia Nix-Hodes to be honored with the Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award

The Chicago Bar Foundation will honor Patricia with the 2018 Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award at its July 12 Pro Bono & Public Service Awards luncheon. We are grateful to the bar foundation for recognizing our respected legal director.

The CBF writes the following:

Patricia Nix-Hodes, Director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), has spent her 26-year legal career fighting for the rights of homeless people. Whether through individual advocacy, impact litigation, or shaping public policy, Patricia’s work has had a positive and often life-changing impact on tens of thousands of people across Illinois.

In her 20-year tenure at CCH, Patricia has litigated many landmark cases, including the influential Salazar v. Edwards class action lawsuit against the Chicago Public

Patricia Nix-Hodes

Schools. Today, Patricia leads a team of six attorneys actively enforcing the consent decree, which established critical rights for homeless students and meaningful standards for CPS and has resulted in over 200,000 homeless students receiving specialized services and resources to enable them succeed in school. In 2015, she led a team of CCH and pro bono attorneys in negotiating a new policy with the City of Chicago to protect the personal property and belongings of people living on the streets. In addition to her systemic work, Patricia has individually represented hundreds of homeless families, students, and unaccompanied youth and adults. She advocates for basic civil and human rights, which include access to school, shelter, housing, employment, and the simple right to be in a public space.

Patricia is always willing take chances and push boundaries to advance social justice and improve access to legal aid for people who are homeless. Her skill and leadership as an attorney are matched by her compassion and dedication to her clients and to the attorneys and staff working with her. A former client states, “Knowing that you can stand up for yourself is empowering, but not having to fight those battles alone gives you strength. Patricia helped ensure that we never had to fight alone.” Patricia’s unwavering dedication to justice for all represents the legal profession at its best. The CBF is proud to honor her with the Morsch Award.


About the Thomas H. Morsch Award

Each year, the CBF awards the Thomas H. Morsch Award, the premier public recognition for long-time legal aid and public interest law attorneys in our community. The award, which includes a cash prize generously provided by the Morsch family, was established to recognize and reward exemplary lawyers who choose public service work as a career. The cash gift celebrates the award recipients’ accomplishments and serves to honor the financial sacrifices they have made by choosing legal aid as their life’s work.

The award is named after Thomas H. Morsch, a former partner at Sidley Austin, and a leader in the Chicago legal community who has championed the cause of public interest law for more than 40 years. Mr. Morsch headed Sidley Austin’s commercial litigation department from 1973-1995, was a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and supervised the firm’s Committee on Pro Bono and Public Interest Law for 20 years. Mr. Morsch was the first Director of the Small Business Opportunity Center at Northwestern University School of Law, now known as The Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center. He is currently the Center’s Emeritus Director. Mr. Morsch has also served as president of The Chicago Bar Foundation and in leadership positions on the boards of numerous other charitable and legal organizations in the Chicago area.

Leader Robert Henderson speaks at national ‘Housing Not Handcuffs’ conference

By Diane O’Connell, Community Lawyer

Three staff members from the Law Project, along with Community Organizer Keith Freeman and CCH client and leader Robert Henderson, attended the “Housing Not Handcuffs Human Right to Housing Forum” this week in Washington, D.C.

Housing Not Handcuffs is a campaign of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to end the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. About 200 people attended, including organizers, attorneys, people experiencing homelessness, and government employees. The panels discussed victories and challenges over the last year. Breakout sessions focused on the work moving forward: a coordinated national effort to strike down unconstitutional panhandling laws, strategies to protect the rights of people living in encampments, ending youth homelessness, and promoting renters’ rights.

The highlight of the conference for me was the inspiring participation by Robert Henderson. He was the plaintiff in the first substantive case filed under the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, a case that the CCH Law Project settled this winter.

Robert spoke at the end of the plenary session, with nearly all the attendees at the conference present. He told his story of being at his “lowest point” while living under a bridge, only to have city employees throw away everything he owned, including his photographs and obituaries of family members.

Later, Robert also contributed his lived experience to a breakout session on panhandling. He was arrested twice for panhandling while living on the street. Once he was held in Cook County Jail for 72 hours simply because he had asked for change. Robert was the only person in the session who had personally experienced criminalization for panhandling, so he helped ground the discussion in reality. Throughout the forum, people from all over the country approached Robert to thank him for sharing his story.

The forum was reaffirming but also shed new light on the importance of CCH work representing people who live on the street.  As keynote speaker Leilani Farha, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing explained, U.S. laws go farther than just criminalizing homelessness — they dehumanize people who are homeless. This is illustrated by laws like those in Illinois that criminalize panhandling, because it is a fundamental principle of humanity that people must be able to ask other people for help.

If we recognize those experiencing homelessness as people, why would society deny them a place to sleep? To use the bathroom? To access food being provided to them by other community members? The injustice that we are fighting when we work to build power for homeless people is bigger than homelessness: It is about human rights. We left more committed than ever to struggle for those rights to be recognized for the people who most need them.

2018 college scholarships awarded Thursday

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project awarded renewable $2,500 college scholarships to five students from Chicago and Aurora who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants, CCH will award more than $370,000 to 64 students over 15 years.

Pierrerasha Goodwin, Bethany Oceguera, Charity Smith, Angelo Villazana, and Kaleyah Wesley were honored June 28 at an event hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law. A 5:30 p.m. reception was followed by a free, hour-long awards event in the 10th floor ceremonial courtroom.

“We are inspired by these students,” said Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes. “Despite unstable housing and other barriers, these teens demonstrate a commitment to their education. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish in college and beyond.” Continue reading 2018 college scholarships awarded Thursday

CCH welcomes community organizer Bisma Shoukat

We welcomed a new community organizer to our staff this week! We asked Bisma to introduce herself.

Bisma Shoukat

My name is Bisma Shoukat. My experience as a Muslim-Indian child of immigrants is where I developed my passion for social justice work. I was in 4th grade when the 9/11 attacks happened. I had just decided to start wearing a hijab (headscarf) that year. My parents begged me to take my hijab off and I listened to them because I could tell they were genuinely worried for my safety. It broke my heart to not be able to represent such a big part of my identity. This is the moment when I realized how I am considered an “other” in the country of my origin. This is when the advocate in me woke up and the passion for creating a more just world was ignited.

Although I was born in San Jose, California, I spent four years of my early childhood in India. My family moved to India shortly after my younger siblings were born because even with both of my parents working, expenses were too high for our family of eight. Living in India left a huge impact on my heart and overall being. I was exposed to major poverty and societal injustices.

From a young age, I was able to recognize the disparities in the communities. It was clear to me how there were so many people who did not have the resources they needed solely based on their caste or class system. I could not ignore the fact that a lot of my relatives employed teenage maids not that much older than myself. It was a strange experience to see these realities, then move back to the United States as a 7-year-old to witness an entirely different world.

It was so new for me to see pavements that were not filled with human beings sleeping on them or to not see children working on the streets selling flowers or chai. America really did seem like that amazing country I had heard of, where people who work hard enough can achieve the American dream.

Bisma with community leaders in Springfield

However even as a child it did not take me long to recognize systemic injustices in my new environment. When I think of people experiencing homelessness or individuals stuck in the cycle of poverty, I cannot ignore how deeply classism and racism are rooted in our society. Members of vulnerable communities are confined to the margins of mainstream society through unjust policies and legislation, all of which are reinforced by social stigma. These realities directed me to pursue a career in social work. I wanted to be a part of a field that works for long lasting change – and how I choose to create change is by community organizing.

In the process of obtaining my master’s degree in social work at DePaul University, I was privileged to intern this past year at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). I was fully integrated into the organizing department. That gave me the opportunity to organize South Side families who sought subsidized housing in the city’s new Families in Transition (FIT) program. I identified parent leaders within the community and create a leadership core-team. By organizing parents in the FIT program, families came together to voice any concerns about program implementation and issues that were important to them. In April, a group of 25 people from FIT families even participated in CCH’s youth lobby day in Springfield.

My experience at CCH made me discover my love for community organizing. I love that it is a practice of storytelling and relationship-building that includes strategic planning and actions. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to continue doing work that gives dignity and agency to individuals who are usually pushed aside, stereotyped, or forgotten.

As a CCH organizer, I will be working with the Reentry Committee, succeeding Rachel Ramirez, who has left to pursue a Ph.D. I will organize in housing programs and shelters that serve women and men who are returning citizens. In the coming weeks, I look forward to meeting our Reentry Project partners, including leaders and staff at St. Leonard’s Ministries and the Haymarket Center.
















Chicago Tribune: Catholic Charities unveils showers for homeless in Chicago

Following the example of Pope Francis, who opened a shower room and laundry facility for the homeless in Rome three years ago, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago unveiled similar services inside its downtown headquarters Monday.

Services also include access to a clothing donation closet and a variety of social services. The agency also will continue to serve meals to the homeless five days a week out of a renovated and upgraded kitchen.

“Our guests will have comfort of a warm shower, toiletries, bedding, clothing,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities. “These small mercies which most of us take for granted can help preserve health and restore hope to those who live at the margins of society. They can be a first step toward a life of self-sufficiency.”

For more than 17 years, Catholic Charities’ headquarters has been home to an evening supper program that serves sit-down dinners and to-go meals to more than 250 individuals and families five days a week.

Guests who come for a meal on Tuesday night have a chance to sign up for a 30-minute shower slot between 10 a.m. and noon the following day. Each shower client receives a towel, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a razor, shaving cream, deodorant and a change of clothes. They also will be able to use the laundry services to wash and dry their clothes and bedding.

Up and running for the past two weeks, showers have been booked solid with a waiting list each Wednesday. The agency hopes to expand the program to more hours and days, but that capacity depends on volunteers.

The program at Catholic Charities is modeled after a similar ministry on Tuesday afternoons at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue. Unlike shelters, both ministries offer bathing opportunities to clients who don’t live there.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there are 80,384 homeless Chicagoans, including people who are relying on friends or loved ones for temporary residence.

“Thousands of people are experiencing homelessness in our city,” said Mary Tarullo, the coalition’s associate director of policy. “So we certainly have a long way to go in making sure everybody is housed. Showers are a great step in the right direction.”

“It’s serving a great need for places where people can take care of themselves in dignity,” she said.

Matthew Shay, 27, a substance abuse counselor who handles the intake for the pilot program, said the washrooms offer hope to people struggling with homelessness — both symbolically and practically speaking. Not only does water symbolize rebirth in rituals such as baptism, he said, but hot showers can also bring about a life-giving transformation.

Shay speaks from experience. He struggled with addiction and homelessness for about 18 months before receiving the help he needed from Catholic Charities.

“When they give up hygiene, they’re mentally giving up and feeling hopeless,” Shay said. “So when you provide that to somebody who doesn’t have it, it provides a sense of normalcy that common Americans take for granted. It’s a simple pleasure for us — simple pleasures that are really a privilege.”

Catholic News Agency: ‘Catholic Charities provides showers for homeless people’


Family homelessness in Chicago: 10,000 families, almost 80% doubled-up

The University of Chicago Urban Labs and CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing) released a study today on family homelessness: Ending Family Homelessness Report: Understanding the scale and needs of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago.

This report, for the first time, combines deduplicated data from the Chicago Homeless Services System and the Chicago Public Schools. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless served on an advisory committee to the research project.

Key findings include:

  • In the past year, approximately 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago. Four out of five of these families (just under 8,000) were living doubled-up with friends or relatives.
  • Only 13% of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago access services from the Continuum of Care.
  • Families accessing the shelter system overwhelmingly have income below the Federal Poverty Level. (Almost one in three self-report no income at the time of accessing services.) The majority are single-adult households headed by a female. Four out of 10 families in shelter self-report a disability, and one in five self-report a mental health problem.
  • Living doubled-up is the most common pathway to entering the shelter system. The majority of families (55.5%) who access shelter have previously experienced homelessness while living temporarily with others.
  • Fifty percent of families that contact the service system while at-risk of homelessness later entered shelter. Of those, half enter shelter within three months.

The reports predicts the housing needs of families that have entered the shelter system and been assessed, but those living doubled-up are not receiving assessments. The reason they have not been assessed is because the majority of the city’s current housing resources are federally funded by HUD. Families that are doubled-up do not meet HUD’s definition and therefore are ineligible for HUD’s housing resources.

Advocates are making a number of recommendations at the city and state level to address the need to better understand and assist doubled-up families as well as to address other findings from the report.

Policy Director Julie Dworkin, with CSH Illinois Program Director Betsy Benito and advocates present the family homelessness study. (Photo by Christy Savellano)

The groups supporting these recommendations are: CSH, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the HomeWorks campaign, Catholic Charities, Ounce of Prevention Fund, Heartland Alliance, and All Chicago.

On the city level, we recommend that we start to assess all doubled-up homeless families that present at school or daycare sites and connect them to resources to address their homelessness. Currently, those resources are very limited, so we also recommend that we begin to identify flexible local funding for housing and services that do not carry HUD’s restrictions. This would ensure that families who are doubled-up are defined as eligible by our service system for these new resources.

The report found that 31% percent of sheltered families had no income, 27% rely on benefits only, and 27% had income from employment. Because of those findings, we recommend that the city increase the enrollment of homeless families in community-based child care slots to 5% of all those enrolled, with an annual evaluation of how they are meeting this goal. Also, at the state level, we recommend that children from homeless families be presumed eligible for child care, with all family co-pays waived.

We also recommend the state increase its TANF cash assistance grant to 50% of the federal poverty line, which for a family of three would increase from $520 a month to $864 a month.

Finally, were concerned about the finding that nearly half of all families that enter the shelter system sought support services but were not prevented from becoming homeless. These families could have been prevented from entering the system, but funding for homelessness prevention has been cut drastically in recent years. In addition, the study found that many of the families were ineligible for reasons such as needing to prove ability to pay all future rent.

Because of this, we want to increase funding for homelessness prevention grants, which provide emergency cash grants to families to keep them in their housing. At the state level, we want to increase funding from $4.9 million to $6.9 million. We also recommend that the city commit $2 million of its own resources for prevention. We also recommend that the eligibility criteria for prevention be expanded so that more families that apply for help can be assisted.

The Urban Labs/CSH study was supported by the Polk Bros. Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, and Pierce Family Foundation.

– Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy


Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Study finds 10,000 families experienced homelessness last year

By Mark Brown, columnist

An estimated 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago at some point during the past year, according to a new study that suggests the city could identify them and intervene sooner.

The study is regarded as significant because it is the first to combine information from the city’s official database of homeless individuals with data from Chicago Public Schools, which tracks homeless students separately using a broader definition of homelessness.

The result is a count that tallies both families identified in the study as experiencing “literal homelessness” — living in shelters or on the streets — and the much larger number of homeless who are “doubled up” in living arrangements with relatives or friends.

Homeless advocates have been urging government policymakers for many years to recognize the needs of the doubled-up homeless. The study confirms families living in such unstable housing situations often end up in the shelter system later. It also provides unprecedented demographic insights into homeless families, which were defined as having at least one adult and one child.

The average size of a family accessing homeless services in Chicago is 3.3 members, slightly smaller than an average city family of 3.4 members. In those families, 70 percent have a single adult female, compared to 18 percent with two adults and just 9 percent with a single adult male.

The average age of the adults in those homeless families was 32, and most of the children were under the age of 10. Half of the homeless families reported having no income or income of less than $500 a month.

Graph of distribution of child age in families experiencing homelessness

Courtesy of UChicago Urban Labs report “Ending Family Homelessness Report: Understanding the scale and needs of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago.” (Provided)

Based on the study, a coalition of advocates led by the Corporation for Supportive Housing urged the city and state to direct more funds toward homeless prevention and to make doubled-up families eligible for services. The study also found that one in four adults in families receiving homeless services report some type disability, typically a mental health problem. Three-fourths of those families had previously sought homeless prevention funding, but were deemed ineligible.

The homeless groups say the city should coordinate its efforts by reaching out to families with students the school system has identified as homeless, both to offer assistance and to keep track of them.

• They don’t live under a bridge, but they’re still homeless
Homeless students need more than ‘token’ attention from CPS
• Question from Lower Wacker’s rousted homeless: ‘Where are the people gonna go?’

City’s eviction of Lower Wacker homeless camp slows, but doesn’t stop

Although the numbers are daunting, the report indicates the total of 10,000 homeless families in the city is actually an improvement.

The total was 12,500 just four years ago and has decreased steadily each year since then, the study found.

But researchers note the drop in homeless families may be the result of the city’s changing demographics, which have seen a disproportionate population loss of low-income and African-American residents.

The study by the University of Chicago Urban Labs found that family homelessness falls most heavily on African-Americans, who account for 77 percent of families experiencing literal homelessness and 86 percent of those who are doubled up.

On Wednesday, the city cited its own efforts to end family homelessness through the Families in Transition program as one cause for the reduction. The program has housed 88 of the 100 families that took part, said Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler.

Urban Labs researchers project the number of homeless families in the city will hold steady, or see a slight uptick, during 2018.

Chicago Tribune: ‘We don’t have nowhere to go’ – Confusion persists after delayed evictions of Lower Wacker homeless encampment

By Tessa Weinberg

The piercing whine of drills hitting concrete echoed across Lower Wacker Drive as a person in a homeless encampment tried to sleep nearby.

Advocates with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless stood huddled as Chicago Department of Transportation workers drilled holes to erect tall black poles that would fence off an area along the site of a homeless encampment known as “the Triangle,” near Wabash Avenue and East Lower Wacker.

“Woah, they’re serious,” Chris Carter, who has been homeless for four years, said when he spotted the six poles Monday afternoon.

Carter, 50, is one of the dozens of homeless Chicagoans who have packed up their belongings and are leaving the area that once was home to about 50 people at a time.

Link to video interviews

By Monday afternoon, crates, blankets, a few bicycles and trash were left strewn across the damp ground. One tent remained, but bright orange CDOT signs warning that people and belongings needed to be gone by 8 a.m. Monday for construction already had driven most out.

However, confusion persisted when the scheduled evictions didn’t take place. A new sign was posted announcing the Triangle would be power-washed from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday.

Ali Simmons, a street outreach worker with the Coalition for the Homeless who visits the encampment a few times a week, said the new sign and delayed evictions “make no sense.”

“There’s still people here. They didn’t move. They didn’t make an attempt to move. So I think that tends to support the fact that there was confusion on what was supposed to happen,” Simmons said. “You’ve got two different notices, saying two different things. Why post a power-washing notice for the 15th to give residents notice of this, if no one would be here?”

Multiple city departments, including the Police Department, Department of Family and Support Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Streets and Sanitation are working in conjunction to fence off the encampment in an effort to target crime. Construction of the fence is expected to take place through June 22.

Diane O’Connell, a staff attorney with the Coalition for the Homeless, questioned the city’s intentions.

“I think that there’s crime that happens all over the city of Chicago, and to take an adverse action against a group of people based on a stereotype that that group of people is dangerous, is discrimination,” O’Connell said.

Two officials with CDOT declined to comment at the encampment or clarify when people needed to vacate.

“I can’t speak to the signs,” said Alisa Rodriguez, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services’ deputy commissioner of homeless programs. “But what I can tell you is that we haven’t asked anyone to move. Of course the intent is by the end of the week, CDOT will do the work that they need to do, and folks will need to vacate, but no one needs to move now, or not until Friday.”

However, the orange CDOT bulletins posted last week said all people and items needed to be vacated Monday and any belongings left would be “discarded by the City.”

Representatives of the city’s Transportation, Family and Support Services and Streets and Sanitation and Police departments said they could not provide clarification on when people have to leave.

Some people said they hadn’t been informed by the city when they needed to leave.

“I’m just trying to figure things out,” Carter said. “Who is responsible for doing all these things right here? Caging this up because of the homeless?”

The confusion surrounding the deadline creates a risk for people who are homeless who call the Triangle home, O’Connell said.

“If they don’t know when the city is going to finally, actually evict them and take possession of things that are here, it creates uncertainty and it creates a risk that if a person does need to go somewhere and do something, maybe when they’re not here their possessions get thrown away,” she said.

Among the belongings could be medication, personal documents, clothes and more, O’Connell said.

Carter and Terry Mardis, who said he had lived in the Triangle for the past 13 years, were some of the people who had already moved their belongings farther down Lower Wacker.

Carter said he has lived in the Triangle for the past three winters, and with the fence going in, he had no choice but to move.

Mardis, who stood in the Triangle on Monday with a sleeping bag under one arm, said he felt the construction showed the city considered being homeless a crime.

“But it’s not a crime,” said Mardis, 48. “We don’t have nowhere to go. We’re down here to live our life.”

Those at the encampment said their remaining options were slim.

“We’re safer down here,” Carter said. “We go down south there’s shooting down there. We go out west, there’s shooting over there. Go out north, we don’t belong around there. The city is segregated, so the homeless can’t go too far.”

The covered roads of Lower Wacker Drive provide warmth and protection, Mardis said.

Simmons said the Triangle was a place where people have found sanctuary, security and comfort. Building a fence won’t fix the issue in the long term, he said, while affordable housing would.

“Eventually we’re still going to be down here,” Carter said. “We’re just going to move down the street, and go down somewhere else. It’s going to be the same old, same old.”

Rodriguez rebutted claims that the city is criminalizing homelessness and only provides services when evictions are near.

“We’re under Lower Wacker regularly. This is nothing new. Nothing different,” Rodriguez said. “The only difference is that the fence is going up.”

But to Mardis, the fence makes all the difference.

It’s “really hurting me, because we’ve got to go. This is our house down here,” Mardis said with tears in his eyes. “We’ve got to stick up for our rights. And everybody’s got to stand up.”

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Chicago takes low-key approach to remove homeless camp from Lower Wacker

A city official on Monday talks to a homeless man who lives in The Triangle about services that are available to him as the city slowly begins to move the encampment on Lower Wacker Drive. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, columnist

City workers moved deliberatively Monday morning to begin removing a homeless encampment from an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as The Triangle.

Unlike the police show of force that characterized last summer’s eviction of tent cities beneath two Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration took a low-key approach to ousting the homeless group that occupies a spot just west of Michigan Avenue.

An 8 a.m. deadline for the homeless residents to move their belongings came and went with no effort to physically move them.

It was nearly 10 a.m. before city social workers arrived to begin offering the last dozen stragglers another opportunity to accept a bed in a shelter or detox unit. They found one woman who took them up on the chance to go to detox.

Only two police officers were on the scene, and they were staying mostly on the periphery. A Salvation Army truck served chili mac and Kool-Aid.

By late morning, however, a city contractor began drilling holes in the pavement to erect fence posts — the clearest sign about the city’s intentions to make the area off limits to homeless people.

Despite the din, many homeless people lay asleep on the ground.

Many packed their belongings and moved down the street to another area of Lower Wacker. Others came and took their place.

A contingent from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless arrived early to stand watch to make sure nobody’s rights were violated but they didn’t have much to do.

The city has said it is closing the encampment for public safety reasons — both for the protection of the homeless people and for those who live and work in the area.

Advocates for the homeless say the city is just trying to move the homeless to a less visible location away from the busy roadway.