StreetLight Chicago launches website companion to free mobile app for homeless youth

Homeless youth and their providers in Chicago now can access StreetLight Chicago using a computer! The free mobile application of resources for homeless youth is accessible on a new website, http://www.streetlightchicago.org

StreetLight Chicago is a database listing resource and healthcare information for homeless youth. It was co-created by the Youth Futures legal aid clinic at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Young Invincibles, with support from the VNA Foundation.   Continue reading StreetLight Chicago launches website companion to free mobile app for homeless youth

Streetsblog Chicago: Let’s not use sidewalk bike lanes as defensive architecture

The Wilson viaduct. Photo: John Greenfield

The Wilson viaduct. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

Did you ever notice how the glass panels of standard CTA bus shelters don’t go all the to the roof, so that when you wait for a ride during a heavy rainstorm you tend to get wet anyway? Have you used a public bench that was sort of uncomfortable because city planners wanted to make sure it would be almost impossible to sleep on? Ever notice that urban bridges often have large boulders placed underneath them to create an uneven surface, or how window frames sometimes feature spiky fixtures to keep people from sitting on them? That’s called defensive architecture, strategies to discourage loitering, which often have the effect of making public space less useable and welcoming for all of us.

It appears that the city of Chicago wants to use bicycle infrastructure as a form of defensive architecture, by installing bike lanes on the wide sidewalks in Lake Shore Drive’s Lawrence and Wilson viaducts in Uptown. For years people experiencing homelessness have camped out on the sidewalks within the underpasses, many of them using tents provided by homeless advocates. On occasion the city has forced these folks to remove their belongings, such as before a 2015 Mumford & Sons concert at nearby Montrose Beach, which has often resulted in protests by advocates and threats of lawsuits. The situation has been a constant headache for city officials, especially bike-friendly local alderman James Cappleman.

To varying degrees, I’m sympathetic to all involved parties. It’s generally not lawful to camp out in public space in Chicago, and it’s understandable that some of Cappleman’s constituents don’t feel they should have to pass through an illegal homeless encampment in order to walk to the beach.

On the other hand, these tent cities provide the residents with shelter from the elements, safety in numbers, and a sense of community. These locations make it easy for them to be located by people who wish to offer donations of goods and services and check on their wellbeing. Moreover, the encampments are a high-profile symbol of our city’s failure to adequately address its homelessness problem, which is one reason they’re so embarrassing for politicians.

As reported by the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown, the city is planning to install bike lanes on the sidewalks of the viaducts as part of the reconstruction of the underpasses, which is slated to begin next month. Presumably the new bikeways will be similar to the sidewalk lanes in a Metra viaduct on Randolph between Canal and Clinton in the West Loop.

The sidewalk bike lane in the viaduct on Randolph at Canal. Photo: John Greenfield
The sidewalk bike lane in the viaduct on Randolph at Canal. Photo: John Greenfield

While there’s no question that the crumbling Lawrence and Wilson underpasses should be rebuilt, the bike lanes would make it impossible for homeless people to return to the viaducts after the renovations are finished. Therefore on Wednesday the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless announced its intention of suing the city if it follows through with the bike lane plans. In a letter to city officials, the group demanded that permanent housing be found for all people currently living in the underpasses, and that the project be redesigned so that there will be space for tents in the future. There was a protest over the issue yesterday.

When I checked in with Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey about the bike lane plans today, he provided the following statement:

The improved viaduct will better accommodate the high volume of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles that travel to and from the lakefront more safely, including improved sidewalks and dedicated off-street bicycle paths. Designs are final and a contractor has been selected for the work. Construction work is expected to start in September and is estimated to take eight months.

When developing and designing projects such as the Lawrence and Wilson viaducts, CDOT makes a determination about layout based on traffic volume, conditions on nearby roadways and longer-term development plans in the adjacent communities. Each project is different and what works for one viaduct may not be the best design for others. In this case, CDOT began the design process by incorporating the recommendations in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was published in December 2012. Lawrence Ave. from Austin to the Lakefront Trail is included as a crosstown bike route. Wilson from Spaulding to the Lakefront Trail is designated a neighborhood bike route.

[It was determined that], given the available right of way, built environment, and traffic volumes, the best option would be to utilize the unusually wide right of way for separated bike lanes and pedestrian ways, while preserving traffic capacity. This is consistent with other repairs and building of bridges along Lake Shore Drive, with an upgraded pedestrian/bicycle bridge at North Avenue and ongoing work on the Navy Pier Flyover. New pedestrian/bicycle bridges are also being added to the south side, at 35th St. (finished in 2016) and 41st St., currently under construction.

While, all other things being equal, putting bike lanes on these sidewalks would be a good strategy to make biking through these tunnels somewhat more comfortable, as things stand these are not particularly hazardous passages for cyclists. Under the current configuration, tents included, families and less-confident riders can already ride slowly or walk their bikes on the wide sidewalks within the viaducts. As an Uptown resident myself, my experience has been that the folks living in the viaducts are friendly to passers-by and careful to leave plenty of room on the wide sidewalk for pedestrians.

Moreover, there are hundreds of viaducts in this city. If it’s simply a coincidence that the two underpasses where tent cities are causing a public relations nightmare for the city are the ones that are getting bikeways that will displace those encampments, as CDOT claims, that’s a heck of a coincidence.

More likely, this is a very intentional attempt by the city to use bike infrastructure as defensive architecture, to try to keep the homeless from occupying public space in the future. Other bike advocates may disagree with me on this issue, but in this case I say “Not in my name.”

Media Advisory for Thursday, August 10: Lawsuit threatened on viaduct construction

Homeless Encampment Residents and Their Attorneys Threaten Lawsuit Against City of Chicago in Advance of Viaduct Construction

WHAT:

Press conference convened by homeless encampment residents of the viaducts at Lake Shore Drive at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Construction to repair the viaducts is set to begin soon, and the current re-design puts bike lanes in the sidewalks, which is less safe for pedestrians, bikes, and cars, and which is discriminatory toward homeless people.

Residents and their attorneys will be discussing a letter they are sending to the city’s Corporation Counsel indicating that they are prepared to move forward with a civil action pursuant to the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act and to seek injunctive relief under the Act.  Continue reading Media Advisory for Thursday, August 10: Lawsuit threatened on viaduct construction

Center for Community Change: Housing Trust Fund, home-sharing surcharge to house Chicago families experiencing homelessness

LaTanya Gray, Senior Director of Early Childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children, at the April 20 press conference announcing FIT: “Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night.”

LaTanya Gray, Senior Director of Early Childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children, at the April 20 press conference announcing FIT: “Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night.”

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless launched a new initiative, Housing Support for CPS Families in Transition (FIT), to provide permanent housing and services for 100 families experiencing homelessness in high crime communities.  The goal of FIT is to help Chicago’s most vulnerable families to establish stability so that their children can succeed in school and life. The initiative will be funded with a $1 million investment by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund (CLIHTF) matched with funds via the City’s 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs.

Families that are homeless are at a significantly higher risk for experiencing violence, a dynamic that is magnified in communities where there is a high level of violence. Responding to the lack of housing options and support for the more than 9,925 families with school age children experiencing homelessness in Chicago, the Coalition initiated the HomeWorks Campaign.  Working with parent leaders and housing providers, HomeWorks advocates for improved school services and more family-sized housing with supportive services, including housing for families through the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and the Chicago Housing Authority. The HomeWorks campaign made very clear that despite the overwhelming need for housing by these families, less than 1% were accessing permanent supportive housing.

Drawing from the methodology and lessons from the Ending Veterans Homeless Initiative and the Chronic Homeless Pilot programs, the City and the HomeWorks campaign partnered to lead the FIT initiative.  FIT identifies families with children experiencing homelessness enrolled in the six targeted public schools and provides an assessment for the families using a standard Vulnerability Index. Resources will be targeted to those who are considered to be the most vulnerable. The FIT definition of homelessness includes families that are doubled up and therefore are not eligible for many HUD funded homeless programs.

We are so excited to see dedicated state and local housing resources going towards permanent housing for homeless families, “ said Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “In particular, we applaud the city for including “doubled-up” families in those considered eligible for the program as this group has had great difficulty accessing housing assistance due to limited definitions of homelessness.”

This summer, the Coalition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Chicago’s the Department of Family and Support Services began the first phase of this effort by reaching out to families enrolled in the Students in Temporary Living Situations program in six targeted schools to inform them about the program. The second phase will include assessment of all the families and placement of the eligible families into 100 new permanent supportive housing units to be added by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund. Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers, support from a housing provider to locate housing, and wraparound services to support them in maintaining their housing.

The Chicago City Council enacted the 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs in 2016 by a vote of 43-7.  Proceeds for the surcharge are dedicated to funding supportive services and housing for homeless families as well as people who have been chronically homeless.  In addition to the surcharge, the ordinance requires registration, licensing, and data sharing for short-term rentals. The surcharge will generate an estimated $2 million annually.

Read this and other news stories by the Housing Trust Fund Project at the Center for Community Change.

To learn more about FIT, contact Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Associate Policy Director Mary Tarullo at mary@chicagohomeless.org or (312) 641-4140.

CCH golf outing in Wilmette on August 21

Janet Terry and Sue Hayes ready to head out to the course.

Space is still available as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless brings its annual golf outing back to the Wilmette Golf Club for a third year.

Set for Monday, August 21, the event kicks off with a grilled lunch at 12 noon and tee-off at 1:30 p.m. After golfing, participants enjoy cocktails and a dinner reception, with the opportunity to bid on fabulous silent auction prizes.  Continue reading CCH golf outing in Wilmette on August 21

Rockford Register Star: Letter to the editor – Rep. Kinzinger should vote no on current health care reform bill

Last week, a group of professionals representing the Illinois Public Health Association, Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, EverThrive, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Protect Our Care Illinois Coalition supported a press conference in front of Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s Rockford office.

Our message was simple: Please meet with local health department leadership and other health care stakeholders from his 16th District before voting on the next version of health care reform. We also delivered a letter signed by 24 public health and social service organizations from the district asking Rep. Kinzinger to vote no for the health care reform bill as it is currently written.

Out goal for this proposed meeting was to educate Kinzinger regarding the major implications that the current proposed health care reform will have on public and preventative health. the letter was not partisan. During tough budgetary times, public health leadership must speak out for the funds they rely on from the state and federal government to provide essential services to their communities. the current proposed legislation would jeopardize those funds and services.

Prior to last week, our group reached out to Kinzinger’s field staff to schedule this critical meeting and were told that he would not be able to meet with us at all. After a second request following the press briefing, we were offered a brief and cordial conversation with the field representative and were told he would get back to us.

After we left, some of Kinzinger’s staff made comments misrepresenting how things had occurred and questioned our involvement. We must reiterate that the press conference and discussion were both completely pleasant and positive. The group implored the staff to let Kinzinger know that what the public health leadership and health care professionals were asking for was a comprehensive and constructive meeting to discuss the impact of the current proposed legislation.

Many of us work in local, regional and state government, and we believe that working with our elected officials is the best way to assure a strong and robust government system and a successful democracy. The first critical step from Kinzinger’s office would be to respect our efforts toward collaboration and schedule this important meeting.

Given the constant budgetary constraints, health departments must be allowed to tell their stories to prevent further funding cuts. Public health must advocate at the state and national level for recognition of our work to protect the public and promote health.

We are very concerned about the speed at which things are moving in Washington. Kinzinger does not have all the facts about the impact of the bill including that more than 33,000 people in his district would lose health care coverage either through insurance of Medicaid. Nationally, 23 million people would lose coverage. The drastic Medicaid cuts proposed would devastate health care access, including treatment for mental illness and addictions right at a time our nation is in crisis in both of these areas.

Our arguments are not about taking political sides, nor are we suggesting the Affordable Care Act is perfect. This is to ask that both parties work together to improve the ACA rather than quickly repealing it with an inadequate and downright harmful replacement. Because this vote is expected to be so close, it is imperative that Kinzinger be able to make a well-informed decision. We are going to continue to push for a meeting as it is our professional responsibility to protect the health and promote the wellness of our communities and the constitutents of Kinzinger’s districts.

— Tom Hughes, Illinois Public Health Association executive director, and Cathy Ferguson-Allen, IPHA president

Schoolhouse Connection: Innovation Spotlight – School-Housing Partnership Serves Homeless Families Who Are “Doubled-Up”

By Mary Tarullo, Associate Director of Policy, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

HomeWorks, a housing and schools campaign spearheaded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), is working with the city of Chicago to launch a program to provide housing for homeless families with children.

Among its innovations, the program will include doubled-up families – those seeking shelter with other people – after assessing the most vulnerable among 264 homeless families identified at the six schools. It marks the first time that local housing dollars will serve doubled-up Chicago families.

Announced in April, the program will offer permanent housing and supportive services to 100 homeless families from six Chicago elementary schools in high-crime neighborhoods.

“We are thrilled that the city committed a new resource for housing for homeless families, and in particular, that it recognizes the needs of highly vulnerable doubled-up households that previously have not been able to receive housing and services,” said CCH Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg.

HomeWorks organized in mid-2015 to advocate that the city prioritize addressing family homelessness, including school services and the needs of doubled-up families, just as veteran homelessness was prioritized a few years ago.

Housing Homeless Families will be funded by a $1 million yearly investment from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, with $900,000 from the city’s new house-sharing (Airbnb) tax.

Last year, HomeWorks worked with the mayor’s office and the Chicago City Council to enact a 4 percent surcharge on the house-sharing industry, making Chicago among the first municipalities to leverage a dedicated funding source for homelessness. CCH also pushed for the housing trust to dedicate new housing resources after CCH helped secure the release of escrowed funds owed the rental housing support program.

The city and family housing providers will identify families, working closely with shelters specializing in family services and with the Chicago Public Schools.

Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers and be matched to a provider who helps them locate housing, ensuring a smooth transition.  Housing navigators will help families get to appointments and obtain required documents for their housing applications. Families will continue to work with providers as they receive wraparound services to support them in maintaining permanent housing.

In a press conference to announce the new program, CCH released a report on doubled-up homeless families in Chicago. The report shows that 82% of homeless people living in Chicago in 2015 sought shelter with relatives and friends, or doubled-up. To assess the size of Chicago’s homeless population, CCH developed a new methodology using U. S. Census data. This method also provides a more precise understanding of how many families are doubled-up.

The report shows that 82,212 people were homeless in Chicago in 2015, an unduplicated count. Eighty-seven percent of homeless families (8,634 families) with children were doubled-up.

CCH also found that 44% of homeless families served by the emergency shelter system had doubled-up with friends or family, either prior to or after entering the shelter system within that year. This shows many families experience both types of homelessness, cycling in and out of shelters and the homes of others.

They include families like Chrishauna Thompson’s. Her family became homeless after Chrishauna’s mother suffered a back injury, leaving her unable to work two caregiver jobs. Over the next four years, Chrishauna, 17, changed schools nine times as her family doubled-up with different relatives.

“Doubled-up is homeless,” said Chrishauna. “I never had a key. I didn’t have privacy. A lot of times I was late for school waiting for a shower. I was worried that we could be put out at any time.”

As of now, there is no path for doubled-up families to access the housing resources made available to families in shelters. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a limited definition of homelessness that includes people at “a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter… (or) a public or private place not designed for a regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.”


“Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night,” said LaTanya Gray, senior director of early childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children. Newly relocated to the city’s South Side, the Primo Center provides housing and services to over 500 homeless families in Chicago a year.

Working with children from birth to age 5, Gray says she sees the impact of homelessness on young children. Many suffer from anxiety.

“They’re angry and sometimes act out. Their young lives have been so chaotic,” Gray explained.

Eight housing providers partner with CCH on the HomeWorks campaign: AIDS Foundation, Beacon Therapeutic, Catholic Charities, CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing), Facing Forward to End Homelessness, Heartland Alliance, Primo Center for Women and Children, and Unity Parenting and Counseling Center.

Editors note: Public schools, early childhood programs, and other federal programs use a definition of homelessness that does include families who are staying with others temporarily because there is nowhere else to go (doubled-up). The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 1511/S. 611) would amend HUD’s definition of homeless to include children and youth who have been determined to be homeless by these federal programs. The legislation would require HUD to honor local communities’ priorities, including by allowing using HUD homeless assistance to assess and serve these families and youth.

Take Action to Support HCYA Today:

  1. Urge your Members of Congress to sign-on as co-sponsors of H.R. 1511/S. 611.
  2. Sign your organization on to a letter to Congress to show support.
  3. Spread the word to community partners, colleagues, and others.

At last! After two years Illinois legislators pass a state budget, overriding the governor’s veto

By Niya Kelly, Policy Specialist

After two fiscal years without a budget, the Illinois House and Senate came together in bipartisan fashion to enact a budget and revenue package, with final veto override votes on July 6.

Two years without a budget devastated the Illinois safety net. Homeless and housing service providers laid off staff, discontinued programs, and shuttered their doors. The budget crisis not only impacted social services statewide, it jeopardized higher education’s accreditations, dropped the state’s bond rating to near-junk status, and threatened schools’ ability to reopen this fall.  Continue reading At last! After two years Illinois legislators pass a state budget, overriding the governor’s veto

Horizons outreach program showcases parent and child poets

Wayne Richard watches as Dionne Naize offers her poetry

Horizons creative writing workshop hosted 35 parents and children from two South Side shelters at its yearly poetry showcase, held June 20 at Chicago’s Intuit gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Seven parents and three children shared their own poetry during a one-hour showcase.  Continue reading Horizons outreach program showcases parent and child poets

Announcing our 2017 college scholarship winners

The 2017-18 Scholars, (front, from left) Kristen Lang, Niani Scott, Mayra Fajardo, Avery Williams, Ayrianna Longs, Amber Rodriguez; (2nd row, from left), Jennessa Martinez, Edwin Casas, Jessica Lee, T’Prinn Ingram, Claudia Kubarycz-Hoszowska, Prince Washington, Dontay Lockett, Nia Hill (Not pictured: Kimberly Azpeitia, Catherine Jones, Cassandra Murff) Photo by Jeff Foy

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project has awarded renewable $2,500 college scholarships to four students who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Funded by private donors and grants, CCH has awarded more than $270,000 to 55 students since 2004.

Scholarship winners Mayra Fajardo, Niani Scott, Prince Washington, and Avery Williams were honored at a public awards event on June 22.  Continue reading Announcing our 2017 college scholarship winners