Chicago Tribune: Saving lives, saving money: Hospitals set up homeless patients with permanent housing

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

When Latesha Holman was homeless, she was a regular in Chicago’s emergency rooms. Sometimes she’d go four times in a single week, battling asthma and a raft of other health problems, though often she just sought refuge from the cold.

Not anymore. Holman, 45, has spent this nasty winter tucked in her cozy basement apartment, kept warm by a space heater, her morning mug of coffee and the joy of babysitting her infant granddaughter.

Her symptoms have improved. Her depression has eased. Her hospital visits — and the high costs they incur — have plunged.

“Since I’ve been here I have never felt this good, really,” Holman said as she sat in her tidy living room, still adorned with a white plastic Christmas tree she bought for the holidays.

Holman owes the roof over her head to University of Illinois Hospital, among a handful of local hospitals starting to invest in permanent housing for chronically homeless patients in order to improve their health and reduce their costly emergency room visits.

Link to video interview of Latesha Holman

The idea is that providing the homeless with stable housing in the long run costs less than leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets, where they are more vulnerable to illness, violence and desperation that ultimately drive up health care costs. U. of I. Hospital, in partnership with the nonprofit Center for Housing and Health, is leading an effort locally to get health care providers to put money toward getting the homeless housed.

“The solution is cheaper than the problem,” said Stephen Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine at the hospital and of its Better Health Through Housing initiative.

U. of I. Hospital, in the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side, this week announced it will extend a pilot program it launched in 2015, committing an additional $250,000 to place 25 more chronically homeless patients into permanent homes. 

While the housing itself, in scattered sites throughout the city and suburbs, is funded by grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the hospital pays $1,000 per month for each patient in the program to cover supportive services, including a case manager who helps participants get on their feet. That’s far less than the $3,000-per-day bill some chronically homeless patients ring up in the ER, the hospital said.

Results from the pilot suggest it is worth the investment. The average monthly health care cost per client in the pilot dropped 18 percent after they were provided with permanent housing, to $4,785 from $5,879, the hospital said.

The individual effort won’t help the hospital’s bottom line, Brown said. But he calculates that if every hospital in the area agrees to help house 10 chronically homeless patients, it could make a major dent in homelessness in the city and save money systemwide.

Cost reduction is not the only motivation for the investment. The core driver is health equity, Brown said, and the recognition that homelessness itself is a dangerous health condition that hospitals should help alleviate.

“If someone came in with cancer, we would do extraordinary things to keep them alive,” Brown said. “The irony is that if someone with a dangerous condition like homelessness comes in, we dismiss them.”

Homeless people are at high risk of pulmonary disease, traumatic brain injury, HIV/AIDS and head and neck cancers, possibly because of higher rates of smoking and alcohol use. Their expected lifespans are 25 years shorter than average, according to some studies.

Most of the major hospital systems in the area, including Northwestern Memorial and University of Chicago Medicine, are at the table on the homeless housing issue, Brown said, and a handful have programs underway.

Swedish Covenant Hospital, in the Ravenswood neighborhood, recently agreed to invest $75,000 to provide 10 chronically homeless patients with permanent housing and support services for a year.

Rush University Medical Center, in the Illinois Medical District, plans to launch a pilot program this spring to provide housing and support services for up to five chronically homeless patients.

Both programs are modeled after the one at U. of I. Hospital and partner with the Center for Housing and Health, a subsidiary of the AIDS Foundation, to identify available apartments via 28 supportive housing providers with HUD grants. Presence Health plans to launch a similar pilot this year.

Separately, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System in August partnered with the nonprofit Housing Forward to connect homeless patients with 33 permanent supportive housing units in west and south suburban Cook County. The system has committed to spending $400,000 for the first 12 months.

“You have to spend money to ultimately save money, or better use the resources you have,” said Mary Sajdak, senior director of integrated care at the county health system. Some homeless patients eager to get out of the cold have gotten good at describing a set of symptoms that they know will land them in a bed for a few days, she said.

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, said tapping local and private funding sources for housing the homeless is critical given uncertain federal funding.

“There is really great evidence that if you get people into permanent housing and they have intensive support services, that can resolve homelessness for them permanently,” she said.

There were about 5,657 homeless people living on Chicago’s streets or in shelters on a given night last year, according to a city count, down 4 percent from 2016. But most homeless people stay with friends or family, and if you count them the city’s homeless population is upward of 82,200, said Dworkin, whose estimate is based on Census data.

One lesson U. of I. Hospital learned from its pilot is that it sees far more homeless patients than it realized. It initially identified 48 homeless patients in the emergency room, based on staff observations, but as it scrutinized admissions data it found many more people list homeless shelters or hospitals as their home addresses, Brown said.

The hospital now has 616 people in its system who are likely homeless and estimates it has seen more than 3,000 homeless patients since 2010. It reviewed the hospital usage of a sample of homeless patients and found 32 percent were in the highest cost classification, which means their care cost seven to 70 times more than the typical patient.

While many are sick, and their health problems are exacerbated by homelessness, those just seeking warmth are getting the priciest bed in town. It costs about $1,500 a night for a bed in the emergency room, Brown said.

“If we got them a place in the Four Seasons, it would be cheaper,” he said.

While most of the patients invited to participate in the housing program are “superutilizers” — meaning they visit the emergency room more than eight times are year — that’s not the only criteria. A team that includes staff from the ER, social work, psychiatry, oncology and other departments convenes to discuss which patients’ health would be most helped by having housing, such as those with multiple diseases that require frequent outpatient visits.

All participants must meet HUD’s definition of being chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for at least a year or on four separate occasions over the last three years.

Picking the right people to thrive is a challenge. Of the 26 participants in U. of I. Hospital’s initial pilot, just 11 remain in their housing units. Four people died, one entered hospice, two could not live independently and eight left the program for various reasons.

Going forward, it may be better recruit patients who aren’t so severely ill, so that they can continue to improve, and put the sicker people in more appropriate environments like skilled nursing homes, said Peter Toepfer, executive director of the Center for Housing and Health.

The transition to housing isn’t easy. Holman, who moved into her cozy basement apartment in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood a year ago, said it was difficult to live by herself after being on the street, off and on, for 15 years, often sleeping in abandoned houses or in shelters surrounded by other homeless people. She didn’t know how to go food shopping or stay on top of her medications or many doctors’ appointments: liver, heart, dentist, foot, psychiatrist. Alone in her apartment, she felt afraid.

She credits her improvement to the help of her case manager and her children, with whom she has reconnected since moving into her new home. Now, she said, it’s “a piece of cake,” though she still feels lonely.

Larry Haynes, Holman’s case manager, said Holman was nervous at first about the program, and a key challenge was building trust and rapport to help her understand the importance of seeing doctors for preventive care. While some participants may be steered toward job training or education to become more independent, the priority for Holman is to stabilize her health, said Haynes, housing case manager at Christian Community Health Center, which subleases the apartment to Holman. He has been encouraging her to join a local church to make friends.

Holman said she feels better since gaining a stable home and regular medical care. She has an asthma pump for the first time. Her biggest goal for 2018 is to stop smoking.

The mother of four also has been able to sit down with her children — aged 17 through 26 — and clarify misconceptions they had about her life. Earlier this month, she cooked up a feast in her spacious kitchen to surprise her youngest daughter on her birthday, an emotional moment for all.

Her daughter later told her, “Mom, I want to be like you when I grow up, have my own place,” Holman recalled. She’d never heard that before.

Beginning Jan. 1, more community college students in Illinois are eligible for the SNAP food program

Updated February 13, 2018

A new public policy win will help an estimated 40,000 community college students in Illinois: In 2018, low-income, vocational-track students are eligible to apply for the SNAP food assistance program.

New rules issued by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) will allow these students to apply whether full- or part-time students. Previously, only part-time students could qualify for SNAP, also known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

In early February, an IDHS spokeswoman said that students can apply for SNAP after IDHS completes rule-making procedures. Announcements will be made when this new eligibility opens.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has advocated this eligibility for more than five years through its homeless youth campaign, No Youth Alone.

“This is an exciting victory for students,” said State Legislative Director Niya Kelly. “CCH has been in talks with IDHS for years, working to change this antiquated policy.  Homeless students consistently listed this as one of their top barriers in finishing up their education.”

CCH has asked IDHS to implement a rule change like the one enacted since Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration. When that was unsuccessful, CCH worked with Heartland Alliance and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law to propose 2017 legislation later called the “College Hunger Bill.”

It was part of CCH’s successful legislative package, “Three Steps Home.”

As HB3211, the SNAP bill enjoyed strong, bi-partisan support, passing the Illinois House, 85-25, in March 2017 and the Senate, 50-1, in May 2017. But Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto on August 18, saying the Illinois Student Assistance Commission should not be required to assist with implementation.

So advocates worked with the legislative sponsors to introduce a new bill – Senate Bill 351 – during the fall 2017 veto session. The College Hunger Bill passed the Illinois Senate by a 54-1 vote on Oct. 25. But the measure failed to progress through the House before the veto session ended.

Later in November, IDHS announced it was adopting a rule change to allow these students to apply for SNAP.

Working with Heartland and the Shriver Center, CCH will continue to advocate for legislation (SB351) in 2018 that ensures students retain access to SNAP even if IDHS were to change its rules again.

For their strong leadership, CCH offers thanks to the bills’ legislative sponsors, Rep. Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford) and Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield), and to IDHS Secretary James Dimas.

Key staff advocating on this issue are Policy’s Niya Kelly, who leads current efforts for CCH, and earlier advocacy by Policy Director Julie Dworkin and Associate Law Project Director Beth Malik.

The new SNAP policy is still in the rule-making process. Students with questions may contact their local IDHS office. When implementation begins, CCH will provide an update.

Forty-eight percent of college students report experiencing food insecurity and 22% report having to skip meals, per a recent national survey. Increased hunger on college campuses is blamed on the rising cost of higher education, scarce financial aid, and the rapidly changing face of the traditional college student. Hunger is a pressing issue in Illinois, especially among students at community colleges.

Students in vocational-track community college courses include: Agriculture; Business and office; Marketing and distribution (information management and product/service management); Health (CNA, LPN and RN programs); Home economic sciences (food preparation and culinary studies); Technical education (computers and data processing, engineering and science technologies, and communication technologies); and Trade (automotive or HVAC courses).

– Anne Bowhay, Media

WBEZ: Homeless couple sues city, claims targeted harassment

Editor’s Note: The CCH Law Project is co-counseling this case with the law firm of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

A homeless couple is suing the city of Chicago and some of its employees over what they claim is repeated harassment over the last three years.

WBEZ’s Odette Yousef reports.

Amie Smith and Shawn Moore claim that city workers threw away at least eight tents they’ve lived in. WBEZ reported on one of those incidents late last year.

Diane O’Connell, their attorney from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says that’s not even the half of it.

“By destroying their property, forcing them to move repeated times, and by other conduct, the city of Chicago has violated their right to equal treatment, their right to privacy in their possessions, and their right to use public space.”
O’Connell says they have those rights under the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act. The city’s law department did not immediately respond.

Listen to the radio report

WMAQ Channel 5: Chicago official calls displacement of homeless during frigid temperatures ‘unfortunate’

By Mary Ann Ahern

WATCH the Channel 5 report here

The city of Chicago admitted Thursday cleaning out a viaduct in freezing temperatures, where the homeless had taken shelter, was a mistake.

The city threw out all of their belongings and now says the incident was “unfortunate.”

Ryan from Woodridge, just 10 years old, had brought backpacks to the homeless at the viaduct at Belmont and Kedzie–many of those gifts thrown out as garbage.

NBC 5 went back to that viaduct Thursday and spoke to a woman who has lived on the streets for more than a year.

Blanca is back at Belmont and Kedzie, where she lives under this viaduct when she’s not riding the “El” train to stay warm.

She lost all of her belongings when the city cleaned this viaduct Wednesday — even the backpacks donated by young Ryan.

“And my blanket, all my Christmas stuff… they took everything,” she said.

Chicago’s Coalition for the Homeless and Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa are critical of the city’s cleanup–when the temperatures are hovering near zero.

“I’m very upset that this is the way the city went about this, they didn’t provide my office with notification, and they didn’t go about this the right way, I think that it was a mistake,” Rosa said.

Doug Schenkelberg, executive director of the CCH, says the homeless just want housing.

“How do we provide real resources and support to people who are homeless and have to live in this situation?” he asked.

Another question posited is whether the city will continue with the viaduct cleanups or wait until it’s not quite so frigid.

“What happened yesterday was unfortunate,” Alisa Rodriguez, of the city’s Homeless Services. “We definitely want to make sure that it does not happen again like that.”

Rodriguez, who is the city’s point person for the homeless, notes while the clean up was clearly posted — when the weather turned as cold as it did adjustments should have been made.

“When it’s single digits the utmost important things to remember is the safety of these individuals and to make sure cleaning becomes secondary,” she said.

Blanca is grateful for coats left for the homeless Thursday, trying on several before she heads off to ride the “El” during the coldest hours of the evening.

The city says it will work with all of its partners in communicating how to better balance the issues of cleaning up the viaducts at the same time being aware of how cold it is outside.

Where to turn for help in frigid weather

Chicagoans should call “311” if they need weather-related help in frigid winter weather, including access to homeless shelters or city warming centers.streetlight-chicago-image

Garfield warming center at 10 South Kedzie Avenue is open 24/7. Six other neighborhood warming centers, listed here, are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays whenever temperatures go below 32 degrees.

In the suburbs, people can contact police non-emergency numbers to ask about warming centers, many of which are housed in police station lobbies and libraries. To find a warming center statewide, see www.keepwarm.illinois.gov

StreetLight Chicago, a free mobile app for homeless youth, provides alerts and lists resources such as shelter and drop-in centers that serve unaccompanied youth through age 24. The free app can be downloaded from iTunes or Google Play. Continue reading Where to turn for help in frigid weather

Thanks to Zumiez, 300+ homeless people have new coats for winter

New coats were a hit at these boys’ South Side shelter. (Photo by Keith Freeman)

Thanks to outerwear retailer Zumiez, homeless families are ready for winter this holiday season.

Every year since 2005, Zumiez has shipped more than 40 boxes of coats, hoodies, blankets, gloves and hats.

That’s 550 boxes of clothing in 13 years!

This year Zumiez sent us 42 boxes – 200 coats for men, women and children, 96 blankets, 96 adult hoodies, 120 hats, and 40 pairs of gloves.

Community organizers distribute the clothing at some of the 40+ shelters where they run outreach.

“It’s a generous donation that really helps people in need,” said Associate Director of Organizing Wayne Richard, who managed this year’s distribution.

– Anne Bowhay, Media

 

 

Chicago Reader: Mistreatment of the homeless

Chicago police commonly confiscate and throw away the tents of the homeless

CPD’s policy seems more concerned with optics than with law and order.

JAMIE RAMSAY

 

From Chicago Reader’s “Worst of Chicago 2017” edition

It’s important for me as a progressive stereotype to listen to public radio while driving and to get outraged at the news. If my hackles are especially raised, I will even tweet about it. (Like I said, progressive stereotype.) This is what transpired in October after I heard a report from WBEZ’s Odette Yousef about the common Chicago policing practice of confiscating and throwing away the tents of the homeless. According to Yousef’s story, one explanation the Chicago Police Department gives to defend the practice is a law that says it’s illegal to block a public thoroughfare. CPD cites a provision of the city’s municipal code: “No person shall use any public way for the storage of personal property, goods, wares or merchandise of any kind. Nor shall any person place or cause to be placed in or upon any public way, any barrel, box, hogshead, crate, package or other obstruction of any kind, or permit the same to remain thereon longer than is necessary to convey such article to or from the premises abutting on such sidewalk.”

OK, let’s say I park my car on a sidewalk. A cop would write me a ticket and tell me to move along, but I think we’d all be shocked if he told me to get out of the car, proceeded to smash my vehicle into a cube in front of me, and then wouldn’t even let me keep the cube. (Would he throw my hogshead of mead into the trash too?)

Regardless of the laws human beings who are homeless may or may not be breaking by setting up a tent in public, the CPD seems more concerned with optics than with law and order. The logic of the policy to a progressive stereotype such as myself seems to be: homeless people should not be publicly visible and they will be intimidated and destabilized until they’re made invisible. Never mind that there isn’t room enough in all of Chicago’s shelters to accommodate the thousands who are homeless. Even if there was, shelters are often not stable, safe places to stay.

What would help create more stability for these folks? I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head, many of which are a part of the ongoing work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, none of which are stealing and destroying the property, shelter, privacy, and peace of our fellow Chicagoans most in need.   

ABC7: Chance the Rapper hosts party at Field Museum to help the homeless

By Stacy Baca and Cheryl Burton

“We get our people involved, we get our merchandise involved…every resource we have. And when we partner with a group like SocialWorks, we go all in,” said Bradley Nardick, Bargains in a Box.

There was music and dancing and free goodies among the dinosaurs.

While the party was free for needy students, those who can afford it were asked to donate $15 to SocialWorks and winter gear for the homeless. The effort was not lost on even Chance’s youngest fans.

“It means to me very a lot, because he gives people things to those in need and all of that, and it’s pretty good,” Shaylah Clay said.

In Chicago, 82,000 people are homeless, 82 percent of them are doubling up, like couch surfing or staying in a shelter.

“We know that a lot of homelessness isn’t seen, it’s hidden. It’s really important for people to recognize when you see someone on the street that’s just a sliver of the problem,” said Doug Schenkelberg, executive director, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

In fact, 18,000 CPS students are homeless. Statewide, that number jumps to 50,000.

LINK to VIEW THE VIDEO

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless memorial service honors anonymous lives

Benjamin Soto Ramirez was a late entry to the program for Tuesday’s Chicago Homeless Persons Memorial service at Old St. Patrick’s Church.

Ramirez, 67, was beaten to death over the weekend, his body discovered on the sidewalk near the doorway where he usually slept in East Ukrainian Village. 

Most homeless people don’t die quite so dramatically.

They pass quietly, often out of sight, their deaths more likely an unconfirmed rumor to those who knew them on the street than the basis for a news story.

Many never get a funeral. Some of their bodies go unclaimed at the morgue.

It was with that in mind that the annual memorial service was first organized in 2010 by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Ignatian Spirituality Project and Old St. Pat’s.

The service provides an opportunity to both pay respects to the dead and call attention to those who remain homeless.

The highlight of the program is the reading of the names of homeless people known to have died in the past year.

As each name is read aloud, a student carries a candle in honor of that individual to the front of the church. It can be an emotional experience.

I say “known” to have died because it’s not as if there is any official list. The names are submitted by homeless shelters familiar with the program.

It is understood that the list is not complete, which is why the candle procession always ends with a nod to “those whose names are known only to God.”

There are 33 names on this year’s list. Where possible, the organizers try to include at least a sentence about each person.

Marcus Faleti, an alcoholic who froze to death at age 58 in Wicker Park in early January, will be remembered as someone who “loved reading the Sun-Times and Wall Street Journal.”

Moriah Ishmael will be honored as “someone who was very respectful and a joy to be around. All Moriah wanted was a place to call his own.”

Will Kelly “was a good friend who helped many people.”

Wesley Sharp “was a kind, respectful and patient man” who will be “missed dearly by friends.”

William Carter died of cancer.

Durell Thomas “was hardworking and just looking for a safe place to stay.” Rhonda died of MRSA. Stanislaw Gal “left behind a wife and kids.”

But sadly even that scant information is often unavailable.

In some cases, all that’s known is when the person died: Ray W. and Nancy in January, Yacob G. in May, Leonard S. in July, C. Glover in August, John G. in September, Christina Kostoff and Patrick S. in October, Tommy Irby in December.

Then there are those who will be recognized only by name: Timothy Griffin, Henry Hartage, Terry King, Andre Perry, Larry Singleton, Angela Williams, Lewis Frost, Bethelynne Johnson, Michael Erl, Rick Berry, Barbara McHenry, Renard Parrish, Claude Michaelis and Kevin Lawson.

As someone who believes every person has a story to tell, that always bothers me.

There’s a common perception of homeless people as dangerous. Some can be, of course, but more often they are victims.

“Our guests are vulnerable. They are vulnerable in so many ways,” said Ed Jacob of Franciscan Outreach, one of the city’s leading providers of homeless services and a sponsor of the memorial service.

“It’s not just exposure to the elements. It’s not just the cold. They don’t have the stability. They don’t have the sense of security that you and I would have,” Jacob said.

Tonight’s memorial at Old St. Pat’s, 700 W. Adams, is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

I learned late Monday of another dead homeless man, Perry Brisby, 49, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Dec. 4 in the 2000 block of South Emerald. He died Sunday at Stroger Hospital.

They’ll need to light another candle.

Homeless Memorial set for Tuesday, Dec. 19

For National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, a coalition of homeless service providers and advocates will host a candlelight vigil and memorial service to remember Chicagoans who died this year without a home.

As the nights get longer and colder, we remember that homelessness is a human struggle. Hundreds will join us for this moving service, a solemn reminder of those who have little to call their own.

Thirty-four people – 28 men and six women – were remembered, as well as “those whose names are known only to God.”

 

WHEN & WHERE:

Harmony, Hope & Healing sings at the 2016 memorial service.

Tuesday, December 19, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., at Old St. Pat’s Church, 700 W. Adams Street, Chicago (free of charge)

WHY:

An analysis of census data by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless showed 82,212 Chicagoans were homeless in 2015. Nationally, over the course of a year, 2.5 million to 3.5 million people experience homelessness.

ORGANIZED BY:

This event is affiliated with National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, one of more than 150 events across the U.S. organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

This Chicago service was first organized in 2010 by CCH, Ignation Spirituality Project, and Old St. Pat’s Church. Homeless attendees are offered a dinner prior to the service. The Homeless Memorial is now coordinated by these six Chicago organizations:

  • Chicago Coalition for the Homeless advocates for and with homeless youth, families and adults, including a legal aid program serving the needs of students, youth and adults experiencing homelessness.
  • Franciscan Outreach  provides shelter, case management, shower facilities and laundry services to hundreds of men, women and children in the model of respect and dignity of St. Francis of Assisi.
  • Harmony, Hope & Healing provides creative, therapeutic and educational music programs, offering emotional and spiritual support to homeless and underserved women, men and children in the Chicago area.
  • Ignatian Spirituality Project works to end homelessness by providing Ignatian retreats to men and women who are homeless and in recovery.
  • Old St. Patrick’s Church extends hospitality to all that find the church on their path and to serve the life and work of the laity in the world.
  • New Moms enables, empowers and equips at-risk adolescent parents and their children through services and mentoring based on Christian values.

For more information, contact Associate Director of Community Organizing Wayne Richard.