Judges can no longer consider unpaid fines when reviewing record-sealing petitions

Judges cannot consider a person’s fines, fees or outstanding financial obligations when reviewing a petition to seal a criminal record, under a new state law signed August 10 by the governor.

The Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill, House Bill 5341, became effective immediately upon signing by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

RROCI celebrates passing the FATE bill, including Mercedes González (front, fourth from left) and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth.

While the FATE bill does not excuse any debts, it prohibits judges from refusing to seal a record until all fines or fees are paid.

The issue arose after people sought to seal records, as allowed under 2017 legislation that expanded record-sealing options in Illinois (HB2373).

Seen as job-access measures, both bills were advocated by the CCH Reentry Project and partners in the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) — Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance.

The FATE bill passed the Senate by a 32-21-1 vote and the House, 63-39, on May 24. CCH made multiple trips to Springfield with reentry community leaders to advocate for the bill, involving service providers that included St. Leonard’s Ministries and Haymarket Center.

Said Ali Simmons, a CCH reentry leader, “RROCI viewed this bill as a top priority because after HB2373 passed last year, courts started engaging in the practice of denying sealing petitions based on an individual’s unpaid fines or fees. This was an unintended consequence. It was a way to continue to bar people with criminal histories from sealing their records, obtaining a job, and finally being able to move on with their lives, which includes having the means to pay their fines and fees.”

Kudos to our lead sponsors, State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) and State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), and to Gov. Rauner for signing the bill. Policy Specialist Mercedes González and Organizers Rachel Ramirez and Bisma Shoukat led CCH’s effort, working with leaders Gloria Davis, Glenn Brown and Ali Simmons.

Many thanks to the CCH and RROCI supporters who sent HB5341 action alerts to the governor this summer!

LINK to HB5341 Fact Sheet

– Anne Bowhay, Media

 

CCH welcomes new Associate Director of Organizing Nick Jefferson

This week, Nick Jefferson joined our staff as Associate Director of Organizing, Strategic Campaigns.

Nick joins Director of Organizing Wayne Richard and Associate Director of Organizing Jim Picchetti in overseeing what will be a 9-member organizing staff. We asked Nick to introduce himself.

 Nick Jefferson (Photo, Claire Sloss)

I am thrilled to join the organizing team at CCH!

I first got involved with organizing as a volunteer during my final year of college. I had just returned to Chicago from my third trip to New Orleans, where our group was rebuilding homes in the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.

My most recent New Orleans trip had been the most frustrating yet. No matter what programs or initiatives were rolled out to support rebuilding efforts, there were too many systemic barriers that prevented families from getting back on their feet. I felt frustrated, angry and hopeless. This experience and these feelings stuck with me over the course of my last year of college, and really opened my eyes to similar inequities that existed in my own backyard.

I began to volunteer with Communities United, then known as Albany Park Neighborhood Council. Little did I know how much the resilience, passion and fire of the communities I worked with over the next seven years would shape me into the person I am today.

Let’s just say that I had been bitten by the organizing bug… hard.

After graduating from North Park University, I continued to work with Communities United through an internship with Midwest Academy. I was brought on as a full-time organizer that fall. My early days were spent organizing renters living in foreclosed properties to fight back against unfair evictions. That effort contributed to the passage of the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance in 2013.

Shortly thereafter, I worked closely with community residents to develop Renters Organizing Ourselves to Stay (ROOTS). That initiative secured policy changes at Fannie Mae, Cook County’s Land Bank and Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, limiting displacement of low-income families in gentrifying communities and keeping renters in their homes at rents they can afford.

I am excited to bring my experience to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to work with the awesome team of staff and leaders, continuing to advance housing justice in Chicago and beyond.

Charity Navigator gives CCH top marks

In earning a renewed 4-star rating, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was given its first perfect scores from Charity Navigator.

CCH earned 100% scores from the charity watchdog, both for its financial health and its accountability and transparency practices, in a report issued last month.

A small-business review organization, Business.org, has since included CCH in its listing of the top charity in every state.

Choosing among non-profits that do not accept government funds, Business.org reviewed Charity Navigator ratings and online reviews from groups that included GreatNonProfits.

“We then assigned our top ratings to the best charities that do the most with their donations across the nation,” wrote Business.org.

– Anne Bowhay, Media

 

Facts Behind the Faces: 2018 update now available

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has released its 2018 Facts Behind the Faces.

The downloadable 4-page fact sheet paints a picture of homelessness at the national, state, and city level.

Key findings include:

* In Illinois, a person working at minimum wage must work 99 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average fair market rent of $1,058.

* Of all Chicago renting households, 31.6% are extremely low-income, earning less than $20,000 per year. As of 2015, 640,700 rent-paying households in Chicago were cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income for housing.

* In 2017, the Illinois Emergency and Transitional Housing Program turned away people who sought assistance 21,935 times.

Facts Behind the Faces examines many components of homelessness, from healthcare to student homelessness to racial inequality. The fact sheet calls attention to the urgent need for policy reforms and funding that would assist those people who are most vulnerable in our communities.

– Dana Nothnagel, Policy Intern

 

Year-end data on homeless enrollment in Chicago and Illinois schools: 4% increase statewide

Year-end data on homeless enrollment in the Chicago Public Schools and public schools statewide have been released. This includes 56,881 homeless students identified in Illinois public schools in 2017-18, a year’s increase of 4%.

The Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless tracks enrollment data as advocates for homeless students and youth. CCH attorneys represent students in the city and suburbs on issues that include immediate enrollment, access to school services and transportation assistance, and school fee waivers.

According to the CPS office of Students in Temporary Living Situations, 17,894 homeless Chicago children and teens attended CPS-run schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

Continue reading Year-end data on homeless enrollment in Chicago and Illinois schools: 4% increase statewide

Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP

An estimated 40,000 low-income community college students in Illinois are now assured access to food security through SNAP, thanks to Senate Bill 351, which was signed into law July 20 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocated for this eligibility for more than five years, through its statewide No Youth Alone campaign. We worked with Heartland Alliance and the Sargent Shriver National Poverty Law Center over two legislative sessions to enact the College Hunger Bill.

Eligible are low-income vocational-track students attending community colleges across Illinois, whether they go to school full-time or part-time.

Students who want to apply for SNAP should complete a verification form and have it signed by an administrator in their school’s financial aid or bursar’s office. The student should bring the completed and signed verification form with them to their appointment with the Illinois Department of Human Services. Download a verification form here.

Continue reading Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP

Keith Freeman on overcoming the frustration of feeling voiceless

Keith Freeman often tells the homeless people he meets, “It’s not where you’re from but where you’re at.”

Tough circumstances leave many of the men and women he meets feeling hopeless. But having overcome homelessness himself, Keith knows life can get better when opportunities are available to those struggling without a home.

Organizer Keith Freeman with leaders, Labor Day 2017 (Photo by Allison Williams)

Keith works as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). Each month he runs outreach at a dozen shelters serving parents and families. He educates people on their rights and options and organizes new leaders for a citywide CCH campaign now in development. Continue reading Keith Freeman on overcoming the frustration of feeling voiceless

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

The Chicago Bar Foundation honored 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.

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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