Crain’s Chicago Business, Letter to the Editor: What city do we want to be?

By Doug Schenkelberg, CCH Executive Director

As was well-publicized over the past few weeks, the city of Chicago evicted a community of people experiencing homelessness under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on the North Side to make way for a construction project.

When the city set a date to evict the residents, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people in the encampments. Does CCH believe that crumbling bridges should not be rebuilt or that bike lanes are a bad idea or that people should be living on the street? No. We believe everyone has the right to housing, and that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone can access that right.

Our motion to halt the eviction and delay the construction was denied by the judge, and the city evicted the people and disbanded the community. So rather than the city putting resources into transitioning people into permanent housing, resources were put into a line of police standing behind a row of tents, ready to pull them down from their new spot because the city is clearly determined to keep homelessness from being visible in Uptown.

In light of this situation and the fact that there are over 82,000 people in Chicago that experience homelessness in some form in a year, I ask the question—what city do we want to be?

Are we a city that wants to pour resources and effort into hiding homelessness, designing our public spaces to keep people without access to permanent housing from being in the public eye? Do we want to shrug our shoulders at the size of the problem and say it’s just too much?

Or do we want to be a city that makes ending homelessness a priority, one that believes our community is stronger when we provide real housing and support to those who need it?

This is our city and this is our choice. We can and should dedicate the scale of funding needed to end homelessness. This vision is not to say the city has done nothing to address homelessness, but rather to acknowledge it is not enough.

What happened at the viaducts will happen again. There are other tent encampments, other city projects on the drawing board. This situation is not an anomaly. So, I ask again, what kind of city do we want to be?

CCH to participate in Bank of America Chicago Marathon

CCH is proud to be an affiliate charity for the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 7, 2018. We are recruiting our next Team to End Homelessness, offering a limited number of guaranteed entries to the race.

Runners will be required to set a $1,000 minimum fundraising goal, to be raised online in conjunction with their race training.

Continue reading CCH to participate in Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Farewell to Policy Specialist Jonathan Holmes

Jonathan Holmes in Springfield

It is bittersweet for me to announce that I will be leaving the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless at the end of August to join the staff at the Chicago Urban League.

I started my career at CCH almost three years ago as a Policy Fellow, where I worked on legislation removing barriers to employment in schools for people with criminal records. Continue reading Farewell to Policy Specialist Jonathan Holmes

Assessments begin for Chicago’s FIT housing program 

Assessments are underway for a new housing program that will assist homeless families with children enrolled at six Chicago Public Schools (CPS):

  • Ellington Elementary
  • Earle Elementary
  • Howe Elementary
  • Nicholson Elementary
  • L. Ward Elementary
  • Lowell Elementary

The new program is called Housing Support for CPS Families in Transition, or FIT.

Participating families will be those staying at shelters, as well as those who are doubled-up with friends or relatives due to economic hardship.  Continue reading Assessments begin for Chicago’s FIT housing program 

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.  Continue reading Welcome Veronica Cullinan-Burnison, our new AmeriCorps VISTA Organizer

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

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.  Continue reading Bridgeview Bank offers third Hearts for the Homeless program

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.  Continue reading School fee waivers for homeless and low-income students