WBEZ: Where can homeless people pitch tents in Chicago?

Homeless couple Shawn Moore and Amie Smith said city workers have thrown out more than a dozen of their tents in the past two years. Yet, they said they still don’t understand where they can — and can’t — pitch a tent in Chicago and why.

The couple said they first tried to set up tents on the sidewalks of lower-level streets downtown near Millennium Park, but police regularly rousted them from those locations. So they searched for an even more secluded spot and eventually found a small patch of concrete a few blocks east.

The new spot, just off Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street, offered a variety of benefits. They said the highway overhead protected their belongings from the rain. And because the spot is not a sidewalk, they were not obstructing pedestrians. Best of all, they said, was the magnificent view of Lake Michigan.

Smith and Moore said their location off a Lake Shore Drive exit ramp affords them privacy, protection from the rain and a magnificent view. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Moore said that two weeks after they settled in, police discovered their new location and came by every day in an effort to get them to move — again. Now, the couple said, city workers take their tents at least once a month. To prevent their belongings from ending up in the back of a garbage truck, they said one person has to be there at all times, which is time not spent on things like searching for a job.

“[You’re] not going to find many places that’s not actually in somebody’s way,” Moore said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to find a couple, but I’m sure it’s not going to be many more if they run us off of this one.”

City workers remove Smith and Moore’s tent from an area just off Lake Shore Drive near Randolph Street. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Moore and Smith aren’t alone. Residents who lack stable housing pitch tents throughout the city. But those tents, which offer freedom and privacy not found in homeless shelters, also put them in the crosshairs of city workers. Lawyers for homeless people said the city’s rules on tents are vague and the enforcement is uneven.

Why live in tents?

Smith and Moore have also pitched tents on the lower levels of some downtown streets. They said staying near the downtown business district should make it easier to find jobs, but they also are reluctant to leave their tent unattended because they fear city workers will confiscate it. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Chicago had 5,657 homeless people in early 2017, according to a city report on homelessness. City officials and homeless advocates said they don’t know how many of those people are setting up tents as makeshift shelters. But the city report, which some advocates believe drastically undercounts the homeless population, found 1,561 people living in places not meant for human habitation, such as on sidewalks or in parks.

In April, Department of Family and Social Services deputy commissioner Alisa Rodriguez said the city does not have enough space at shelters for all the known homeless people. The acknowledgement came during a hearing about a proposed tent city in front of a shuttered elementary school in the Uptown community.

TESTIMONY FROM ALISA RODRIGUEZ, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY AND SOCIAL SERVICES (p. 174)

That means city officials acknowledged that some people may have little choice but to live outside because of capacity limits at shelters and a deficit of affordable housing. As seen throughout Chicago, some of them live in tents.

The municipal code says the city can limit tent use

Shawn Smith and Amie Moore said Chicago police officers regularly visit them to post these notices of intention to remove the couple’s tent. The notices cite municipal ordinance and a non-binding agreement on sidewalk cleaning policies as reasons for confiscating the couple’s property. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

So where can homeless Chicagoans pitch a tent? One thing city officials point to is a provision in the city’s municipal code.

According to the 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.”

The code doesn’t specifically mention tents, but city officials indicated the spirit of the rule is not to obstruct the sidewalk.

Jennifer Rottner, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Family and Social Services, added that some exceptions may be made for tents, but only if the city grants permission.

“While all residents are welcome to use the public way, they do not have the right to obstruct the public way or keep tents or structures on the public way without a permit,” Rottner wrote in an email to WBEZ.

But Rottner did not know what type of permit was required or how to apply for it.

Once Streets and Sanitation workers throw Smith and Moore’s tent in a city garbage truck, the police officers and other city employees leave. Smith and Moore said they will spend the next few hours panhandling to purchase a new tent that they will put up in the same location that night. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

While city officials cite municipal code, Illinois also has one of the strongest laws in the country when it comes to protecting the rights of homeless people. The Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, passed in 2013, affirms that Illinois residents may not be treated any differently simply because they don’t have a home.

Matthew Piers, an attorney with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym who is helping represent Moore and Smith, said the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act and the municipal code together mean the city can impose some restrictions on tents — like limiting what times they can be up — but don’t allow the prohibition of tents outright.

“Certainly the city couldn’t validly say you couldn’t pitch a tent in your backyard,” Piers said. “As long as they’re not blocking the public way, or creating a nuisance or even inconvenience to anybody else, I would seriously question any attempt to limit their use of tents.”

Moore and Smith’s noted that their tent overlooking the lake was not on a sidewalk.

Two police officers told WBEZ a third reason for taking the couple’s tent in July. They said tents were not allowed in the central business district. Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for the police department, referred questions about the officers’ claim to the city’s Law Department and Department of Family and Social Services.

Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department, said no such law exists.

The city says it takes tents because of a non-binding agreement

City officials cite another basis for removing tents, a legal settlement called the Bryant Agreement.

The city reached the settlement with 16 homeless people in 2015. The agreement spells out how the city will conduct cleanings of sidewalk areas where homeless people live. It also lists what — and how many — personal possessions homeless people can keep with them.

McCaffrey, the Law Department spokesman, pointed to the agreement when asked about where homeless people can have tents in the city. In an email, he rattled off a list of items prohibited under the agreement: “Tents, non-air mattresses, box springs, potted plants, crates, large appliance boxes, carts, gurneys, wagons or furniture, including chairs, tables, couches and bed frames.”

However, McCaffrey’s list differs from what’s written in the agreement, which makes no specific mention of tents. McCaffrey did not respond to follow-up questions about why his language differed from that in the agreement or whether the off-street cleaning policies have changed.

Piers, the attorney, noted that the Homeless Bill of Rights has higher standing than the Bryant Agreement.

“[The Bryant Agreement] has no binding effect on any other person other than the signatories to the agreement,” Piers said. “And, by the way, at the city’s insistence it has no binding effect to the City of Chicago.”

For homeless people, the patchwork is confusing

Amie Smith and Shawn Moore said city workers have thrown away more than a dozen of their tents. They are currently staying on the northbound Randolph Street exit of Lake Shore Drive. (Odette Yousef/WBEZ)

Many homeless residents, like Moore and Smith, said the real problem is how to make sense of the city’s selective enforcement of its tent rules.

Moore and Smith said they regularly had their tents taken away from them when they were in areas that pedestrians do not frequent, such as lower-level streets downtown or highway exit ramps. By contrast, the city tolerated — often contentiously — dozens of tents on sidewalks that pedestrians regularly use at the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue viaducts in Uptown. The Uptown tent cities were eventually forced to disband in September, but only because of construction on the overpasses.

Diane O’Connell, an attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless helping Moore and Smith, said she has concluded that the city aggressively removes tents when media aren’t looking. She noted the city backed down from removing tents in Uptown in 2016 after numerous news reports highlighted the difficulties those homeless residents would face going into the winter.

Neither Rottner nor McCaffrey answered a question about claims that the city enforces tent rules selectively.

Piers said the city’s uneven enforcement underscores a need for clear and binding rules.

Moore said he also needs clarity on another issue, namely why the city is allowed to seize their belongings. The Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless allows him the same security in his personal possessions as anyone with a home might expect.

“You can keep telling me to take it down, take it down, take it down,” Moore said. “But why do you have the right to keep taking it? That’s what I’m not understanding….  I purchased this. It’s not illegal for me to purchase. It’s not illegal for me to have. It’s not illegal for me to put up. Why do you keep taking it?”

Continue reading WBEZ: Where can homeless people pitch tents in Chicago?

CCH welcomes organizing fellows from Hungary

 

From left, Alexandra Szarka and Fanni Aradi

This week, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) welcomed two Hungarian organizing fellows. Alexandra Szarka and Fanni Aradi will spend four weeks training with CCH organizers and community leaders.

Sponsored by the Great Lakes Consortium (GLC) for International Training and Development, the organizing exchange trades community organizers from the U.S. and Central Europe each year.

Through the program, Senior Community Organizer Rachel Ramirez offered trainings last month in Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Senior Community Organizer  Jim Picchetti will travel to Hungary and Slovakia to offer trainings in February. CCH has sent organizers abroad for five trainings and hosted 11 interns through the GLC program.

Fanni has volunteered at “City is for All” for two years as an advocate for housing rights for and alongside homeless people. For the past year, Fanni has studied sociology at the University of Pecs.

She began her activism at age 15, participating in her town’s Occupy Movement, but has been an advocate from a young age because of her activist mother. Since then, Fanni’s activism has primarily been on anti-governmental demonstrations and protests. Over the years, Fanni has participated in volunteer training sessions on community development and organizing, as well as “green” activism.

Alexandra also has worked with City is for All for two years,  serving as a social worker for disadvantaged and minority groups. She is leading a project to increase a number of public restrooms in Budapest to aid homeless people, in addition to her work at a non-governmental organization (NGO), Kretakor Foundation.

Alexandra works at a second NGO, “Equal Opportunities in the Schoolbench,” to create afterschool programs for underprivileged students. Previously, she mentored children at a child welfare center in Budapest and volunteered at a juvenile center.

On Monday and Tuesday, CCH organizers helped train 18 Central European program participants. After training, participants departed for assignments with organizing groups in other U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, and Charleston.

For the program’s duration, Fanni and Alexandra will train with Jim through CCH’s Statewide Network.

– Cydney Salvador, Media Intern

Chicago Tribune: Over dinner, Chicago residents connect with homeless

At a trendy restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, diners sat at a table near the front window and chatted casually over drinks.

To someone looking in from the busy stretch of Broadway, the dinner party looked like any other group of friends grabbing a bite after work.

But these unlikely dinner companions — a homeless man, a woman getting by with the support of a LINK card and a housing subsidy, and working professionals from Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast and the West Loop neighborhoods — were trying to do something they say doesn’t happen enough.

The group is part of a new initiative called Dinners for Humanity, which pairs Chicago residents with homeless and other people down on their luck for a sit-down dinner at a restaurant.

With almost no overhead costs and a simple strategy — setting up the monthly dinners, where volunteers agree to spend about $30 on dinner for themselves and their guest — the nonprofit that started through a social media post aims to address the Chicago area’s ongoing homeless problem in a small but meaningful way.

“We live in a world that’s so incredibly divided for no good reason,” said Alex Ripley, 40, who volunteered recently as part of the group’s second gathering. “It’s just an opportunity to reconnect.”

The dinner came one week before construction began on a project that displaced dozens of homeless residents living in tents just a few blocks away under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Advocates for the homeless had tried to block the city from starting construction, arguing that the city’s plans for bike paths and sidewalks intentionally kept the homeless from returning. But a judge ruled that the city could move forward with the project.

Given the emotional debate that has gone on for weeks, advocates for the homeless say Dinners for Humanity could offer a way to help Chicago residents to get to know their community — including some of the 82,000 people living in shelters, doubled-up with other families or on the streets.

“There are different ways to help people better understand what people living in extreme poverty and with low income and no options,” said Anne Bowhay, director of foundation relations and media for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “One-on-one experiences have a real impact.”

Dinners for Humanity was developed by a young professional named Mehdi Lazrak, who moved to Chicago last year. A Morroccan immigrant who came to the U.S. to get a degree at Yale University, Lazrak said he was surprised to see the way people in America seemed to look down on the homeless population and walk by people living on the streets without concern.

While working his first job out of college in Seattle, Lazrak offered to take a homeless man he saw each day at a bus stop out to dinner. He was surprised by the way the gesture gave him a deeper understanding of the man’s challenges, he said.

“It really changed my perspective,” said Lazrak, 26. “I always felt compassion for homeless people, but I just had no idea about circumstances about what lead them to be homeless.”

When Lazrak was transferred by his company, Expedia, to Chicago in 2016, he decided to start a community project that made more of those dinners possible. He put a message on Facebook and Meetup.com to gauge interest and was grateful when volunteers eagerly came forward.

After several months of planning, the most enthusiastic and involved volunteers became the nonprofit’s board members. To keep costs low and make easy connections, they partnered with a well-established group, Inspiration Corporation, a nonprofit that already was offering meals, job training and other services in Uptown.

Volunteers knowingly accept that some of the dinner guests may have criminal histories or mental illness, but the organizers have made it their mission not to discriminate unless there is a real safety risk.

“It’s a simple activity that brings people together,” said Xochitl Guerrero, a Dinners for Humanity board member who spends her days working with mentally ill inmates in Cook County. “You get reacquainted with humanity.”

The volunteers and dinner guest meet briefly at the Inspiration Corporation’s North Broadway office before being dispatched into small groups who walk to nearby restaurants, which are not alerted ahead of time. The planning of the events is the biggest challenge, since many dinner guests are hard to reach and drop out at the last minute.

But once they’re on the way to the restaurants, the conversations are unscripted and uncensored, Lazrak said.

At this month’s dinner, eight dinner guests joined nine volunteers at four restaurants around Uptown.

Over potstickers, spring rolls and chicken satay at Dib Sushi Bar, Renee Martin, 31, told her dinner companions that while she is glad to no longer be homeless, the cost of living in Chicago makes it sometimes feel impossible for her to imagine a day when her paychecks will be enough to cover rent, food and other expenses. In addition to her LINK card and a rent subsidy, she donates plasma regularly to make ends meet, she said.

“I’ve really been fighting for my independence,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be responsible, even when it’s hard.”

Emily Holland, 30, a freelance writer living in the Gold Coast, said she was nervous when she stepped off the train for the volunteer opportunity, but headed home feeling inspired and fulfilled.

“I ended up feeling more comfortable at that table and more connected with people than I have in other social settings,” Holland said. “I was pleasantly surprised with how much we had to talk about.”

Lazrak and other organizers hope that as the nonprofit continues, it will grow its volunteer base and encourage ongoing relationships between the dinner participants. Organizers believe that the small interactions have the potential to grow into community-wide conversations that humanize the homeless and raise the public’s awareness about how to help.

Until then, they’re just glad to be introducing people and filling stomachs.

While digging into a steak dinner with dill rice and charbroiled vegetables at Caravan, Sidney Wright described how even though he works regularly selling concessions at White Sox games and other odd jobs, he can’t afford a security deposit and regular rent for an apartment and bounces between shelters.

As he finished the last sips of his Coke, he thanked his dinner dates for a great evening.

“I fell but I didn’t fall out,” said Wright, acknowledging past struggles.

“I’m down, but I’m not out,” he told his dinner companions. “It’s good to be treated well.”

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Uptown’s homeless fold their tents, city covers its eyes

Police line Wilson Avenue where homeless people briefly set up their tents Monday after the city demanded they leave two Lake Shore Drive viaducts. |Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, Columnist

As Chicago police moved in Monday with crews of city workers to forcibly remove, if necessary, the homeless people from their Uptown tents, activists struck up a chant of “The whole world is watching.”

If only that were true.

Mostly the world looks away from the homeless, except when it can’t avoid their presence, as in the case of the Tent City camps that are no more.

In the end, no force was necessary to complete the camps’ eviction. No blows were struck. No arrests made.

Just the threat of force was enough to convince the remaining 20-25 homeless people to literally fold their tents.

Still, it was touch and go for a while until Pastor Carey Gidron, a friend of the homeless, convinced them they would be better off to voluntarily give up, preserve their belongings and avoid a threatened trip to jail.

So one-by-one they complied until all the tents were down.

Yet afterward, the question had to be asked: What exactly was accomplished this day, beyond clearing the path for a Lake Shore Drive construction project?

“Nothing. Not a thing,” said Peter Rasmussen, a lean 58-year-old homeless man as we sat in the sun in a small park alongside Wilson Avenue where the recent residents of two Lake Shore Drive viaducts had tried to restage their camps on the city right-of-way.

Police declared the new location too dangerous, and beyond that, said the homeless people didn’t have a permit.

“But where can we go?” said the homeless and their supporters. And for that there was no good answer.

When I left them late in the afternoon, one homeless man was passed out drunk on a park bench, another in the grass by the sidewalk. Nearby, a couple had moved deeper into the park to sort their belongings, their plan uncertain.

And, oh yes, some people were putting up the tents again, this time on the city right-of-way on the west side of Marine Drive south of Wilson.

Rasmussen and others had discussed such a possibility earlier.

I told him the city would chase them off from there, too.

“Are they just going to move us around like cattle?” he asked, to which the honest answer was “yes,” although I don’t think I said anything.

We agreed his best approach would probably be to slip off into the park at night by himself or in a small group, making sure to pack up by morning, which was what the homeless used to do before the tent encampments.

The camps were a safer alternative for the homeless, but neighbors felt more threatened by seeing them congregated in one place.

It is not illegal to be homeless in America, but the proof of that was not evident in Uptown on Monday.

It’s probably more correct to say that it is legal to be homeless as long as you don’t stop long enough in any one place that somebody notices you.

Some will hail Monday’s removal of the homeless as progress. I will chalk it up as another chapter in moving the homeless out of the way without really solving the problem.

That’s not to say it was a total loss.

In the lead-up to Monday’s eviction, some individuals received help getting into housing who probably wouldn’t have without all the fuss.

One of them, Mark Saulys, had received keys to an apartment three days earlier and was already feeling the benefits.

“You know what I feel like? I feel like my mother is still alive,” he told me.

Then on Monday, four more took the city’s offer to come off the street and accept beds in a nearby homeless shelter, including Carol Adalpe, the 68-year-old woman with the two dogs I have written about previously.

She refused to budge until promised she could bring the dogs with her.

As I left, Adalpe was riding off into the sunset on her motorized scooter, her friends trailing along with the dogs.

That does not make this a happy ending.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless relocate their tents and wait for city’s next move

Louis “Abdul” Jones and other homeless occupants of two tent encampments moved their belongings to a nearby parkway Sunday in hopes of avoiding a forced city eviction. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, Columnist

Occupants of two homeless encampments under Lake Shore Drive relocated their tents Sunday afternoon in hopes of outmaneuvering the city’s plans to evict them.

About 20 of the tents that have been located beneath the viaducts were moved just west to a thin strip of parkway between the sidewalk and Wilson Avenue.

Advocates for the homeless argued they should be allowed to legally occupy that piece of public property, just as they did two years ago during an overnight protest that became the genesis of the Tent City communities.

“If we can’t live there, we’ll live here,” said Louis “Abdul” Jones, a leader of the homeless group that has occupied the viaducts.

City officials are bound to have other ideas given the perilous proximity to the roadway. Whether the new location would survive even until dawn was anybody’s guess.

Both a state and federal judge have refused to block the city’s order to vacate the viaducts by 7 a.m. Monday to allow for construction work to begin to repair the crumbling structures.

Although many of the homeless people, including Jones, have secured housing in recent days with the city’s help, an estimated 25 individuals faced Monday’s deadline with no place to go other than the city’s offer to take them to Pacific Garden Mission, which is not a popular place with most homeless people I have met.

Among those still without a plan was Carol Aldape, the 68-year-old grandmother I told you about a few weeks ago.

Aldape, who has been living out here in a tent since losing an apartment on Marine Drive in May, joined her neighbors in moving down the street.

Aldape’s particular complication is finding a place to live that will accept both her and her two dogs, Bella and Chief.

She was using her newly repaired motorized scooter to give the dogs a “walk” when I interrupted Sunday.

Aldape said the city has offered to put her in an assisted living facility, but she was not satisfied with the arrangement for her pets.

“They want me to give up the dogs, and I’m not going to do it,” she told me firmly.

But Aldape knows she can’t hold out much longer.

“I have to get in somewhere before the winter. I can’t take the cold,” she said.

Some of those still left under the viaducts already have a promise of housing but were waiting for the last minute to move.

“I like it out here,” said Steve Arthurs, who admitted he had been procrastinating. “I couldn’t push it off any longer. It’s time.”

Why does he prefer the street?

“I get fed better. I like the freedom. I feel very confined by an apartment, the rules,” he said.

Sitting outside Arthurs’ tent beneath the Lawrence viaduct was his friend Donald King, who was one of the first to obtain an apartment through the city’s pilot project for the viaduct homeless.

But even after a year, he returns regularly to the viaducts to visit.

“There’s a certain survival bond that’s formed,” Arthurs suggested.

While we talked, many residents of the nearby Uptown neighborhood walked intentionally in the street on their way to and from the Lakefront to avoid the homeless people on the sidewalk.

But as one young athletic couple came past on the sidewalk, Arthurs called out to them: “Looking good, guys. Looking good.”

They waved.

“They’re training for the marathon,” Arthurs explained.

As afternoon turned to evening with a threat of rain and possible police action, the strain began to show as tempers flared in the close confinement of the new setup.

“A lot of people are going to get left behind. Right now, I know everybody is feeling it,” Jones said.

“This is our last ditch effort,” he said.

By morning, the homeless people may be gone from under the viaducts. Just keep in mind: that doesn’t mean they’re gone.

Chicago Tribune: Uptown tent city homeless move west of viaduct as city plans renovations

Moving tent cityMark Saulys gets ready to move to a new apartment in Rogers Park on Sept. 17, 2017. Homeless people who have been living under the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue viaducts have a deadline to move by midnight. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune) 

NPR, Illinois Issues: No money for shoes

Kellia Phillips is pictured with four of her children: Journee, 7 months, Jaleece, 15, Janae, 13, and Johnnie, 6.Kellia Phillips is pictured with four of her children: Journee, 7 months, Jaleece, 15, Janae, 13, and Johnnie, 6.  (Photo by Keith Freeman/Chicago Coalition for the Homeless)

By MAUREEN FOERTSCH MCKINNEY 

Illinois’ child poverty rate is just as high as it was in 2010. Is the state doing enough to bring it down?

Kellia Phillips’ teen-aged daughters Jaleece and Janae run track. They have had to do so in ill-fitting shoes sometimes as old as three years.

Janae, 13, loves to knit and crochet. Her mother, says, “I could only get her yarn like every three months and she was so much into knitting and crocheting. I still can’t do that for her right now because I have no income.’’

Janae and her siblings would like bikes and a television, but that’s not in the picture any time soon.

“It’s very difficult right now, and I’m trying to pull it together so they can have the stuff they require and actually need,’’ says Phillips, who spent 4.5 years in shelters in Chicago with her children and now lives in Bronzeville on the city’s south side.

Phillips’ family, which includes six children between the ages of 7 months and 18, is a living example of the child poverty problem in Illinois.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation annually compiles a national report with statistics on child well-being. In terms of economic well-being — defined as areas where factors such as the child-poverty rate and children whose families lack secure employment were measured —Illinois ranked 25th.

Anna Rowan, Kids Count project manager for Voices for Illinois Children, says, “Areas where we do well: We have a low rate of uninsured and a high percentage of children in early childhood programs. Where we don’t do so well are the indicators of economic well-being, specifically in our high poverty rate. We have 19 percent of our kids in the whole state who are living in poverty. That’s over half a million of our state’s kids. We need to focus on getting them and their families out of poverty.

“And the alarming thing is that this number hasn’t really changed since 2010, which was the height of the great recession, and our data only go up to 2015, so it’s important to know that we haven’t seen any possible impact of the state’s budget crisis on our numbers.”

What organizations working to assist the poor know is the mission has been harder in the face of a budget crisis. Though a Fiscal Year 2018 budget was approved in July, agencies are still waiting for money. As of Tuesday, there was a bill backlog of $14.5 billion, and $6.1 billion of those bills had yet to be sent to the comptroller’s office. A recent report by the Chicago Foundation for Women detailed some of the consequences of the impasse on organizations that help women and children.

“When this continued for a second year, were started to see a falloff in the number of women and children being served,’’ says K. Sujata, who is president and CEO of the foundation. “When we started talking to the organizations, we started hearing about layoffs and waiting lists and burnout. Certainly, in terms of our own anecdotal sense …we are seeing that people are not receiving services.’’

Mitch Lifson, senior policy analyst for Voices and a contributor to the report, says, “When you look at the demographics of those who are in poverty and what happened as a result of this budget impasse with the curtailment of cutback of services, it had a disproportional impact on women and children of color, and that, of course, makes the circumstances that they’re in more difficult for just getting by on a daily basis.”

But Meghan Power, director of communications for the Illinois Department of Human Services, counters, “Throughout the budget impasse, IDHS worked hard to maintain many programs that served Illinois’ children and families, including the Early Intervention program, the Women, Infants, and Children food assistance program, Family Case Management services, and our Child Care Assistance Program. … IDHS is continuously evaluating our programs in order to create systems that are effective and also sustainable in these hard times.

And Jason Schaumburg, director of agency communications for Gov. Bruce Rauner, wrote in an email:

“Since taking office, the Governor has worked on many initiates to address the needs of children and their families who are living in under-resourced communities.”

Among the initiatives directly related to poverty cited by the Rauner administration:

“Last year, the governor signed into law a bill that expanded the school breakfast program to an additional 175,000 children. Senate Bill 2393 made breakfast an official part of the school day for low-income schools in Illinois. It guarantees that every student has access to the healthy food they need to learn.”

Like hunger, there are real consequences for the children who are in need of services to help mitigate the effects of poverty.

Children living in poverty face greater chances of suffering from malnutrition, exposure to violence and other trauma and see limited educational opportunities as compared to kids who don’t have to deal with being poor, says Katie Buitrago, who is director of research at Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. The alliance is an organization with initiatives that include anti-poverty programs.

Cristina Pacione-Zayas is director of policy at the Erikson Institute, a Chicago graduate school that focuses on child development and provides services to families.

“One area where poverty absolutely has an impact on how a child gets the resources and services they need that can either enhance their development or continue to depress their development. Another area to think about is their access to high quality early childhood education,’’ she says. “A lot of that is dependent on where your family lives: how easy it is to enroll in a program and if there are available slots, and, ultimately, if the program matches the schedule that this family needs for this child. We do know in research that early high quality education and care absolutely helps to mitigate the circumstances around poverty and the conditions of poverty.”

Cristina Pacione-Zayas is director of policy at the Erikson Institute, a Chicago graduate school that focuses on child development and provides services to families.

What are some of the effects of lack of school readiness?

“It has everything to do with is the child ready to be in a formal setting, and what I mean by that is does the child socialize well with his/her peers? Does the child follow instructions? Does the child know how to focus and attend to an activity or is the child going to be distracted and then do what it wants to do?” Pacione-Zayas asks.

“Children who are not ready for school can be labeled as having behavioral issues and then potentially get integrated into a special education program when actually it had nothing to do with what the child’s development but everything to do with was the child was prepared for and exposed to what they need to be successful in kindergarten.

“All of that has sort of a long-term impact because if the child gets misdiagnosed in terms of special education, … We all know there is a strong connection with what happens in early experiences and how you are tracked early on and the outcome you will have later on in life.

“There is also a strong connection between what happens behaviorally in preschool in terms of how young children are being categorized or miscategorized with behavioral issues and how that leads to premature expulsion or suspension and that connects to a long legacy from the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Then why has Illinois placed a greater emphasis on early childhood education and health insurance than child poverty?

Lifson of Voices for Illinois Children has a theory on why the state appears to have done better in the areas of health insurance and early childhood education than poverty.

“It’s clear that while there has been progress in a number of areas, there is still work to do. I would say part of the reason that you see the improvement in terms of children who have health insurance and in terms of some of the education access to education, such as early childhood programs, it’s because the state made a deliberate effort to expand early childhood services, and it made a concerted effort to register children for health care. And so that’s been a success, and really, it’s an indicator that when the state makes a commitment to changing those measures positive things can happen.

“It’s important to continue to make those investments and to see what else we can do to reach those individuals to whom, for whatever reason, don’t have access to early childhood programs or, for whatever reasons, don’t have health insurance,’’ Lifson says.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, is the chairman of the House’s Human Services Committee. He says he doesn’t believe the state has done enough to tackle child poverty or to boost early childhood services or health insurance numbers. He points to cuts made by the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner as a factor

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, is chairman of the House Human Services Committee.

“We’ve seen growing poverty in the last number of years. We’ve seen increase in uptake in programs that serve families in poverty with food assistance, medical assistance, and other related services. And at the same time, we’ve seen the governor trying to reduce child care, try to limit the availability of food stamps, try to restrict enrollment in the Medicaid program, and it’s making it harder and harder for these families to meet the basic needs of their kids.”

His Republican counterpart, state Rep. Patty Bellock of Hinsdale, agrees with the need to do more about helping child poverty but says, “I think one of the major things we have to look at is the economy in Illinois. We need to create more jobs so more people can support their families. That’s crucial to bring children out of poverty. 

Rowan of Voices, says, “If we’re talking also about helping families get out of poverty, that’s about creating economic opportunities for our families. Are there jobs for children’s parents? Are they jobs that pay a living wage? We know there’s been wage disparity so we want to make sure that we’re getting more families into living-wage jobs. So, does that require job training, additional education so we’re getting people access to full-time year-round positions that pay a living wage?”

Good government programs are a necessity, says Sujata of Chicago Foundation for Women. “We in philanthropy cannot fill the void that the government has put in place. We just don’t have the money, even collectively speaking, to step in and fill the voids when government doesn’t step up and provide …  the safety nets that people require.”

Illinois Issues is in-depth reporting and analysis that takes you beyond the headlies to provide a deeper understanding of our state. Illinois Issues is produced by NPR Illinois in Springfield.