Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless coalition threatens suit over Lake Shore Drive project

Carol Aldape, 68, is one of the homeless people who would be displaced by a construction project on Lake Shore Drive at the Wilson Avenue viaduct where she lives in a tent. |Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, columnist

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless threatened Wednesday to file suit against the city over two planned Lake Shore Drive viaduct construction projects that will displace long-time Uptown homeless encampments.

In a letter to Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel, lawyers for the coalition accused the city of intentionally discriminating against homeless people in the design of the new underpasses at Lawrence and Wilson avenues.

The projects include installing bike lanes on the sidewalks where homeless people now pitch tents, effectively preventing anyone from returning there after the work is complete.

The coalition is demanding the city provide permanent housing for everyone currently living beneath the two viaducts and to re-design the planned work to avoid narrowing the sidewalk.

The city has said previously it expects construction work to begin in September. No deadline has been announced for removing the tent residents.

One of those who will be displaced is Carol Aldape, a 68-year-old grandmother who has lived under the viaducts since early May.

Aldape told me she lost her lease in a nearby Marine Drive apartment when the owner decided to sell.

She was unable to find another apartment in the area that would accept both her Section 8 housing voucher — and her two dogs, Bella and Chief.

Aldape decided it would be better to live on the street than to give up her pets, so she rode her electric scooter over to the Lawrence Avenue viaduct and asked to “see the manager” about the cost of renting a tent.

Informed there was no manager and that the tents were free, Aldape decided it was the “answer to my prayers,” which speaks more to her desperation than the modest accommodations.

“It was scary the first couple nights — and cold, too,” she told me Tuesday night sitting outside her tent, the dogs safely inside.

Yet Aldape seems genuinely grateful for this meager lifeline while she seeks another option.

Aldape said she suffers from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart trouble and a bad back. With her doctors nearby at Weiss Hospital, she is determined to stay close.

“I guess they expect me to get worse with the MS as time goes on. But that’s in God’s hands,” she shrugged.

It was the bad back that forced her to retire from work and go on Social Security disability.

Before that, she’d spent 20 years working in a nail salon. She also held jobs at Dominick’s, as a waitress and at an animal shelter.

Aldape was never married, but raised one son. She said she doesn’t know whether he knows she’s homeless, but doesn’t want to bother him.

“We’re sort of on the outs,” she said, then after a pause: “We’re on the outs. I do things my way. We really don’t talk. I’d rather he do his life. He came through me, not to me. I can take care of myself, basically.”

Aldape said she has no other remaining family, but has good friends in the neighborhood who “make sure I’m OK.”

She said she was homeless once previously, but back then, there was a women’s shelter in the neighborhood that has since closed. Shelters aren’t an option this time anyhow, with her dogs.

Aldape’s family moved here from Nebraska when she was 6 and lived above a Near North tavern that was torn down to make way for a Sandburg Village high-rise. In the years since, waves of gentrification have pushed her from Lincoln Park to Lakeview to Uptown.

“It’s all gone the same. It’s prime property, and I’m sure they want it for the prime people,” she said.

Eventually, city officials will step up to help Aldape, I believe.

What I worry about more is what happens to the next person in her situation who won’t even have the survival option of pitching a tent under the viaduct because the “prime people” want a bike lane.

Welcome Veronica Cullinan-Burnison, our new AmeriCorps VISTA Organizer

In July, Veronica Cullinan-Burnison returned to CCH as our new AmeriCorps VISTA organizer. Taking over for Jayme Robinson, Veronica will manage our Speakers Bureau. 

We asked Veronica to introduce herself with this essay:

I am no stranger to the issues that many of the people we work with face. I was born in Volusia County, Florida, but when I was very young, my mom and I moved back to her hometown of Chicago after my parents separated. With only one income supporting us, we struggled to make ends meet and find stable housing. My grandparents took me in, but faced many obstacles because they were not my legal guardians, even with simple tasks like enrolling me in school.

When I was in third grade, my mom made the incredibly selfless decision to grant my grandparents legal guardianship of me. I feel lucky to have had the support of my whole family growing up: my grandparents and mom, as well as my aunts and cousins. I know that many people experiencing housing instability face more challenges than I did, but nevertheless, my upbringing has been the root of my passion to end homelessness.

Veronica with student leaders, speaking with their State Rep. Frances Hurley (D-Chicago) in Springfield.

I was introduced to CCH while earning my bachelor’s degree in social work at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. As an organizing intern during the 2015-16 school year, I quickly learned that I have a passion for community organizing. Through my internship, I facilitated 27 Speakers Bureau events and trained students from Chicago Public Schools to effectively speak to their legislators and advocate for homeless funding and policies.

One of the biggest events I helped to organize was a sit-in and rally at Governor Bruce Rauner’s Executive Mansion in Springfield to demand funding for homeless services. Leading more than 50 Niles Township high school students, we rallied outside the Executive Mansion while older homeless youth leaders held a sit-in inside. A first-of-its-kind event at the Executive Mansion, our action was successful in getting media attention.

After concluding my internship, I continued to travel to Springfield with CCH to lobby for homeless youth funding. To date, I’ve participated in six advocacy trips.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA at CCH, I will work to build the capacity of the Speakers Bureau. Led by passionate leaders who share their personal and advocacy experiences, the Speakers Bureau graces audiences at schools, universities, religious and civic groups across the Chicagoland area. Through the Speakers Bureau, I have learned so much about what homelessness can look like and what it means for the people who are experiencing it. Our leaders’ dedication to ending homelessness is inspiring and crucial, and I am excited to engage the greater community in efforts to end homelessness.

Rene Heybach: Celebrating 20 years of accomplishments, reflecting on the reality of today

By Rene Heybach

Laurene (Rene) Heybach, the Law Project’s founding director (left), accepts the John “Juancho” Donahue award at the Law Project’s 20th anniversary celebration in March, pictured here with Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes.

Today I conclude twenty years and six months working at the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The work was hard, but worth it. The people I worked with have been great, often courageous. There have been so many remarkable people we served, collaborated with, and joined in the streets. I am entirely grateful.

Thank you to so many wonderful friends and supporters for this chance.

As I leave, I am most proud of our lengthly litigation, Salazar v. Edwards. In 1999, the Law Project went to court to require the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to comply with legal protections for homeless students, resulting in a significant order to address CPS’ widespread non-compliance. It required CPS to significantly improve services to homeless students and designate a trained liaison in every city school. Tens of thousands of students and their families have benefited directly from that work every school year since, and the settlement continues to protect the educational rights of more than 18,000 homeless CPS students today.

Another source of pride was the launch and delivery of the Youth Futures mobile legal clinic, which has provided civil legal services to thousands of unaccompanied homeless youth throughout Chicago since its inception in 2004. The direct legal services provided to our poorest youth have almost always improved lives, in some cases even saved them.

Educating volunteers on the rights of homeless children in public schools.

Most recently, through our longterm litigation and enforcement in Hill v. Erickson in 2009, the Law Project represented more than 1,000 pregnant and parenting DCFS wards, protecting their right to housing, school, childcare and medical services.

But in spite of our work, when arriving today – and as I leave tonight — I pass people begging; some curled into downtown doorways asleep; others ill or disabled; most sharing the common dilemma: a lack housing.

Doing outreach to homeless students and families in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

When I leave my office, the doubled-up and sheltered families will be struggling to make it; the homeless students and unaccompanied youth will still be seeking basic educational rights, decent places to live. Those exiting our jails and prisons will continue to face the barrier of prejudice. So I feel the joy of retirement and all of our accomplishments over the years, yet still witness inequity and poverty on a daily basis.

As a young woman, I listened and took to heart the words Dr. King famously spoke in his 1967 speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence, in which he condemned the causes of poverty: the “giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism.”

His answer: challenge the status quo; work for justice in a hostile world; restructure a system that reduces so many of our brothers and sisters to poverty and homelessness. This is what we at CCH attempt to do. Though I leave today, I don’t give up. And tomorrow will be another day, when so many people of good conscience work towards the dream.

Bridgeview Bank offers third Hearts for the Homeless program

Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg and Assistant Director of Development Claire Sloss (middle) accepting a $15,000 check from Don Cortelyou (left) and Nicole Porrez (right) of Bridgeview Bank Group at the conclusion of the 2016 campaign.

Bridgeview Bank Group is offering its annual Hearts for the Homeless program again this year, benefitting three Illinois homeless organizations, including the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

First launched in May 2015, the campaign raised an impressive $36,150 to support our work on behalf of homeless families, youth, and adults. This will be the third year the bank has run this five-month promotion.

Through Hearts for the Homeless, Bridgeview Bank will donate $50 to CCH when you do one of the following:

  • Open a new personal checking account with direct deposit
  • Open a new personal savings or money market account with $10,000 or more
  • Deposit $10,000 or more into an existing personal savings or money market account

To thank its clients, Bridgeview Bank also deposits $150 to each qualifying account that participates in the program.

“Bridgeview Bank is strongly invested in the communities we serve,” said Andrew M. Trippi, Vice President and Head of Community Banking at Bridgeview Bank. “With the help of our clients who participate in the Hearts for the Homeless program, we are proud to support Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – and their mission to prevent and end homelessness. On behalf of Bridgeview Bank, we wish to thank CCH for their efforts the help end the tragedy of homelessness. We are with you in this fight.”

Hearts for the Homeless will run through November 4, 2017. Find out more here, and accounts can be opened at any Bridgeview Bank location.

To preserve its independent voice, CCH does not accept government funding. CCH could not operate without the support of individuals, foundations, and businesses that share our commitment to ending homelessness.

We are grateful for the generous support of the Bridgeview Bank Group and the clients who participate in Hearts for the Homeless. Together, you make a difference in the lives of people living in need.

Social Justice News Nexus (SJNN): In a home but still homeless

Study shows more than 80 percent of homeless Chicagoans are living ‘doubled-up’

By Alexandria Johnson

For nearly 68,000 Chicagoans, the majority of them in families with children, being homeless does not mean sleeping on the street or in a park. Their friends, neighbors and classmates might not even know they are homeless.

But they are “doubled-up,” a type of homelessness basically defined as living in crowded dwellings with extended family members or friends because of economic hardship. A recent study by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless found more than 80 percent of the city’s homeless population living in this situation, a total of 67,582 individuals living doubled-up out of a total of 82,212 homeless people in 2015. There were almost 10,000 families living doubled up, and more than 11,000 unaccompanied youth, according to the study. More than half of the people living doubled up were African-American.

Though they might not obviously appear homeless, children growing up in such situations suffer many of the same struggles as people living outside or in other transient situations. So, the Coalition for the Homeless and city officials are stepping up their efforts to serve this population and reduce the number of families living doubled-up.

“There’s no difference between these families [and people on the streets] in terms of the reasons they become homeless or what they need,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the coalition. “Some of them end up going to a shelter. Some of them end up moving into someone’s house, but they’re all becoming homeless because they can’t afford their housing.” 

Coalition leaders and city officials hope to help people like Jakyla Mitchell, a 15-year-old student at Harlan Community Academy High School, on the city’s far South Side.

Mitchell enjoys participating in poetry club and playing volleyball at school. She said she’s proud of her grades and is looking forward to taking an honors art class next year. But she does all this with extra challenges that her classmates may not face or understand.

Most days after school, Mitchell chooses not to head straight home, where she lives in a three-bedroom house with at least six other people, sometimes more. She sticks around school to work on homework where she can better concentrate.

“It’s hard because with so many kids in one place, it can be hard to get things done with my homework,” said Mitchell. “Mom wants to move, but we don’t know where. I want to be somewhere kind of quiet.”

Mitchell, her mother, mother’s boyfriend, her sister and her sister’s three children all live together in the small home in the Roseland neighborhood. Sometimes more than seven people live in the house at once, including friends of Mitchell’s mother when they need a place to stay due to relationship problems.

“My mom invites people who can’t stay at their houses,” Mitchell said. “Her old friends have to stay and bring their kids.”

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless report estimated that 67,582 total individuals lived doubled-up in the city in 2015. The coalition recently created a new methodology to better assess the size of Chicago’s homeless population by calculating an unduplicated total of homeless individuals based on analysis of the Homeless Management Information System, a database that tracks people accessing homeless services, and data about doubled-up individuals from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census.

“We think [this methodology] is really sound and much more accurate than what we’ve done in the past,” Dworkin said. “It’s something that can be replicated every year in exactly the same way, so we can really compare from year to year what homelessness looks like in Chicago.”

The coalition’s definition of homelessness includes all people considered homeless by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – people lacking a regular, adequate nighttime residence, including those living in shelters or temporary residential institutions or people in places not designed as regular sleeping accommodations. The coalition’s definition also includes those living doubled-up, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education as people sharing others’ housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship.

“This is honestly a very conservative estimate, we’ve been cautious as to who to include as doubled-up households,” said coalition intern Thomas Brown, a recent University of Chicago graduate. “In lots of cases, we decided we couldn’t assign someone as doubled-up because it didn’t look like it would be for economic reasons, but there are sometimes non-economic reasons for someone to be doubled-up, like an LGBT individual who might’ve been kicked out of the house.”

People in such situations are not included in the homeless estimate. Other exclusions include single adult children living with parents for reasons other than economic hardship, heads of households’ relatives over age 65 living with family for health reasons, grandchildren who live with grandparents claiming responsibility for their basic needs and people in institutions or group lodgings.

In conjunction with the April report, the coalition announced a collaboration with the City of Chicago in a pilot program aimed at addressing homelessness in neighborhoods with the city’s highest violence rates. This fall, the program plans to connect 100 homeless families attending Chicago Public Schools in Austin, Humboldt Park, West Englewood and Englewood with new supportive housing units.

“We know that we have an unmet need for supportive housing for individuals and families,” said Betsy Benito, director of the Illinois program at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which is also involved in that pilot program. “We’re really excited about the 100 units to get us going to help respond to these families.”

Rent subsidies for the initiative will be funded with $1 million from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, and the city’s 4 percent surcharge on AirBnB rentals will fund supportive services for the families. Dworkin said the next phase of the campaign will include working with the Chicago Housing Authority – which oversees public and subsidized housing – on addressing homelessness.

School fee waivers for homeless and low-income students

Now that the school year is coming to a close, students in Illinois look forward to special school activities, including graduation, senior luncheons and field trips.

Every year the Law Project receives many calls from low-income students and families who are being pressured by their schools to pay hundreds of dollars in fees before graduation or year-end.

Yet under state law, many of these fees are required to be waived for students and families unable to afford them, including those who are homeless or low-income.

A student or parent must file a written request to have school fees waived, or for Chicago Public School (CPS) students, fill out a CPS Fee Waiver Form. If a student qualifies for a fee waiver, school officials cannot bar a student from participating in school activities, such as prom or graduation, due to their inability to pay.

To qualify as low-income in CPS, a student or family cannot exceed 130% of the federal poverty guidelines. That includes annual incomes of $15,444 for a single person, $20,826 for a family of 2; $26,208 for a family of 3; and $31,590 for a family of 4.

In suburban and downstate schools, students who qualify for free school meals are eligible for fee waivers.

Some examples of school fees that must be waived for low-income students:

  • Charges for textbooks and instructional materials
  • Fees for field trips taken during school hours, or field trips taken after school hours if the field trip is a required or customary part of a class or school activity. This includes annually scheduled trips such as end-of-the-year or graduation field trips and activities.
  • Graduation fees, including caps and gowns
  • Charges or deposits for uniforms or equipment for sports or fine arts
  • Charges for supplies for a particular class, such as shop or home economics materials, or laboratory or art supplies.
  • Charges and deposits for use of school property, such as locks, towels, and lab equipment.
  • Driver’s education fees
  • Fees to obtain school records and health services

Schools do not have to waive some fees and costs, including ordinary school supplies, class rings, yearbooks, school photos and diploma covers, admission to school dances and athletic events and optional travel. While these fees are not required to be waived, many schools have programs to help students and families with these costs.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is available to assist students and families seeking school fee waivers.

Families needing information or assistance can call toll-free at 1 (800) 940-1119.

WCIA 3 News: Bill helps homeless teens seeking shelter

Bill helps homeless teens seeking shelter

Being underage can be a major obstacle when homeless teens seek an escape.

By Raquel Martin

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), every year around 25,000 young people find themselves homeless in the state. Without a safe place to go, many lawmakers believe their lives are put in danger.

It’s why they proposed a new bill allowing minors, from 16 – 18, to take advantage of transitional shelters without their parents’ permission.

Right now, minors must first be emancipated in order to use a shelter. Without a place to go, many are sleeping in places such as cars or other public spaces.

According to the CCH, about a third of homeless young people say they’ve left home because of physical abuse. Lawmakers who support the bill say they these shelters are safe alternative.

“You want a teenager, if they’re seeking help, to be able to access those services and programs that a shelter provides. I mean, you don’t want to jeopardize anybody’s safety by putting them back on the streets if they don’t have the proper permission. You want them to be safe,” says Steve Staldeman (D- Rockford).

The bill is facing some opposition. It passed the House 71 – 40 and now is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Some lawmakers are concerned the bill would encourage more minors to leave home.

There are dozens of transitional shelters for teens around the state. Each offers counseling services so children can ultimately reunite with their parents.

Those who support the bill say these shelters are not meant to be permanent solutions but a way to keep those vulnerable protected.

The Columbia Chronicle: Homeless lose refuge at Tent City

Mark Saulys, a resident of Tent City and organizer at One Northside, will benefit from the city’s housing pilot program and move into a home soon, he said. (Wesley Herold | Chronicle)

By Caroline Bowen, Metro Reporter

Below the busy Lake Shore Drive bridge over Wilson Avenue, snow and ice secures Mark Saulys’ tent to the cement. He has been homeless for more than a year but will trade his nylon walls for a sturdier home in a couple of weeks because of a city housing initiative, he said. 

“I’m worried for the people here, and I can see that they are worried about being tossed out,” Saulys said about his neighbors remaining in Uptown’s Tent City. 

Dozens of homeless people find refuge under the viaduct, which has often put them at odds with Chicago politicians. But construction slated to begin on the Lake Shore Drive bridges intersecting with Wilson Avenue and Lawrence Avenue this spring means time is dwindling for a place many call home, said Diane O’Connell, a staff attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. 

Continue reading The Columbia Chronicle: Homeless lose refuge at Tent City