The Law Project helps students facing any back-to-school issues

Students have headed back to school — and students without housing have special rights to school enrollment, transportation and fee waivers.

Free legal aid is available from the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless for homeless students who face any difficulties enrolling in school or accessing needed school services.

Parents or students can call CCH’s toll-free helpline, at (800) 940-1119. Calls are handled 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Eligible students include those who are:

  • sharing housing of others due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason
  • living in a shelter or transitional housing program
  • living in motels, hotels, trailer park or camping grounds due to lack of alternative adequate accommodations
  • living on the street, in a car or somewhere that people don’t usually live, or in substandard housing

Continue reading The Law Project helps students facing any back-to-school issues

Media Advisory: Panhandling ordinances in 15 Illinois municipalities challenged as unconstitutional

From Chicago to Carbondale, 15 municipalities across Illinois have panhandling ordinances that are unconstitutional and must be repealed, according to three prominent advocacy organizations.

As part of a national effort, letters challenging 22 panhandling ordinances were delivered Tuesday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Letters were delivered to Aurora, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, Cicero, Danville, Decatur, East St. Louis, Elgin, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Peoria, Rockford and Urbana.

“Panhandling laws are used to unfairly criminalize people experiencing homelessness for exercising their First Amendment rights. Every person has the right to ask for help,” said Diane O’Connell, community lawyer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH).

In an effort coordinated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, advocates across the U.S. Tuesday demanded more than 200 cities in 12 states repeal outdated panhandling ordinances. Since a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires closer examination to laws that regulate speech based on its content, (Reed v. Town of Gilbert), panhandling ordinances have been repealed or struck down by the courts in more than 55 cities.

“Our Constitution does not permit a lower standard of protection for speech simply because the speaker is someone in need of assistance,” said Rebecca Glenberg, senior staff counsel at the ACLU. “Local governments like to claim that these laws are necessary for public safety, but that is a red herring. Dangerous conduct may and is regulated without targeting those who ask for money for their basic subsistence.”

“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” said Eric Tars, senior attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “But until all their basic needs—food, health care, and housing—are met, they have the right to ask for help.”

Typical of all the Illinois letters, the message challenging Chicago’s ordinance notes that “the Ordinance serves no compelling state interest. Distaste for a certain type of speech, or a certain type of speaker, is not even a legitimate state interest, let alone a compelling one. Shielding unwilling listeners from messages disfavored by the state is likewise not a permissible state interest.”

Many of the bans addressed today are long-standing ordinances that were not updated to address changes in Supreme Court jurisprudence. The letters cite creative approaches to reducing panhandling, like an effort in Philadelphia that established a day shelter in an unused transportation station in the city’s downtown. The ACLU and CCH argue that such approaches are more appropriate than barring individuals from panhandling.

For more information, contact:

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell

Focus: Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, Decatur, Elgin, Peoria, Urbana


Office: (312) 641-4140

Anne Bowhay, Media



American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois

Edwin Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy

Focus: Aurora, Cicero, Danville, East St. Louis, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Rockford

Phone: (312) 201-9740, ext. 305   Email:


National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

Maggie Ardiente, Director of Development and Communications

Phone: (202) 638-2535, ext. 10

Judges can no longer consider unpaid fines when reviewing record-sealing petitions

Judges cannot consider a person’s fines, fees or outstanding financial obligations when reviewing a petition to seal a criminal record, under a new state law signed August 10 by the governor.

The Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill, House Bill 5341, became effective immediately upon signing by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

RROCI celebrates passing the FATE bill, including Mercedes González (front, fourth from left) and State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth.

While the FATE bill does not excuse any debts, it prohibits judges from refusing to seal a record until all fines or fees are paid.

The issue arose after people sought to seal records, as allowed under 2017 legislation that expanded record-sealing options in Illinois (HB2373).

Seen as job-access measures, both bills were advocated by the CCH Reentry Project and partners in the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) — Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance.

The FATE bill passed the Senate by a 32-21-1 vote and the House, 63-39, on May 24. CCH made multiple trips to Springfield with reentry community leaders to advocate for the bill, involving service providers that included St. Leonard’s Ministries and Haymarket Center.

Said Ali Simmons, a CCH reentry leader, “RROCI viewed this bill as a top priority because after HB2373 passed last year, courts started engaging in the practice of denying sealing petitions based on an individual’s unpaid fines or fees. This was an unintended consequence. It was a way to continue to bar people with criminal histories from sealing their records, obtaining a job, and finally being able to move on with their lives, which includes having the means to pay their fines and fees.”

Kudos to our lead sponsors, State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) and State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), and to Gov. Rauner for signing the bill. Policy Specialist Mercedes González and Organizers Rachel Ramirez and Bisma Shoukat led CCH’s effort, working with leaders Gloria Davis, Glenn Brown and Ali Simmons.

Many thanks to the CCH and RROCI supporters who sent HB5341 action alerts to the governor this summer!

LINK to HB5341 Fact Sheet

– Anne Bowhay, Media


CCH welcomes new Associate Director of Organizing Nick Jefferson

This week, Nick Jefferson joined our staff as Associate Director of Organizing, Strategic Campaigns.

Nick joins Director of Organizing Wayne Richard and Associate Director of Organizing Jim Picchetti in overseeing what will be a 9-member organizing staff. We asked Nick to introduce himself.

 Nick Jefferson (Photo, Claire Sloss)

I am thrilled to join the organizing team at CCH!

I first got involved with organizing as a volunteer during my final year of college. I had just returned to Chicago from my third trip to New Orleans, where our group was rebuilding homes in the Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina.

My most recent New Orleans trip had been the most frustrating yet. No matter what programs or initiatives were rolled out to support rebuilding efforts, there were too many systemic barriers that prevented families from getting back on their feet. I felt frustrated, angry and hopeless. This experience and these feelings stuck with me over the course of my last year of college, and really opened my eyes to similar inequities that existed in my own backyard.

I began to volunteer with Communities United, then known as Albany Park Neighborhood Council. Little did I know how much the resilience, passion and fire of the communities I worked with over the next seven years would shape me into the person I am today.

Let’s just say that I had been bitten by the organizing bug… hard.

After graduating from North Park University, I continued to work with Communities United through an internship with Midwest Academy. I was brought on as a full-time organizer that fall. My early days were spent organizing renters living in foreclosed properties to fight back against unfair evictions. That effort contributed to the passage of the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance in 2013.

Shortly thereafter, I worked closely with community residents to develop Renters Organizing Ourselves to Stay (ROOTS). That initiative secured policy changes at Fannie Mae, Cook County’s Land Bank and Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, limiting displacement of low-income families in gentrifying communities and keeping renters in their homes at rents they can afford.

I am excited to bring my experience to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to work with the awesome team of staff and leaders, continuing to advance housing justice in Chicago and beyond.

Charity Navigator gives CCH top marks

In earning a renewed 4-star rating, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was given its first perfect scores from Charity Navigator.

CCH earned 100% scores from the charity watchdog, both for its financial health and its accountability and transparency practices, in a report issued last month.

A small-business review organization,, has since included CCH in its listing of the top charity in every state.

Choosing among non-profits that do not accept government funds, reviewed Charity Navigator ratings and online reviews from groups that included GreatNonProfits.

“We then assigned our top ratings to the best charities that do the most with their donations across the nation,” wrote

– Anne Bowhay, Media


Facts Behind the Faces: 2018 update now available

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has released its 2018 Facts Behind the Faces.

The downloadable 4-page fact sheet paints a picture of homelessness at the national, state, and city level.

Key findings include:

* In Illinois, a person working at minimum wage must work 99 hours per week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average fair market rent of $1,058.

* Of all Chicago renting households, 31.6% are extremely low-income, earning less than $20,000 per year. As of 2015, 640,700 rent-paying households in Chicago were cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income for housing.

* In 2017, the Illinois Emergency and Transitional Housing Program turned away people who sought assistance 21,935 times.

Facts Behind the Faces examines many components of homelessness, from healthcare to student homelessness to racial inequality. The fact sheet calls attention to the urgent need for policy reforms and funding that would assist those people who are most vulnerable in our communities.

– Dana Nothnagel, Policy Intern


Year-end data on homeless enrollment in Chicago and Illinois schools: 4% increase statewide

Year-end data on homeless enrollment in the Chicago Public Schools and public schools statewide have been released. This includes 56,881 homeless students identified in Illinois public schools in 2017-18, a year’s increase of 4%.

The Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless tracks enrollment data as advocates for homeless students and youth. CCH attorneys represent students in the city and suburbs on issues that include immediate enrollment, access to school services and transportation assistance, and school fee waivers.

According to the CPS office of Students in Temporary Living Situations, 17,894 homeless Chicago children and teens attended CPS-run schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

Continue reading Year-end data on homeless enrollment in Chicago and Illinois schools: 4% increase statewide

Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP

An estimated 40,000 low-income community college students in Illinois are now assured access to food security through SNAP, thanks to Senate Bill 351, which was signed into law July 20 by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocated for this eligibility for more than five years, through its statewide No Youth Alone campaign. We worked with Heartland Alliance and the Sargent Shriver National Poverty Law Center over two legislative sessions to enact the College Hunger Bill.

Eligible are low-income vocational-track students attending community colleges across Illinois, whether they go to school full-time or part-time.

Students who want to apply for SNAP should complete a verification form and have it signed by an administrator in their school’s financial aid or bursar’s office. The student should bring the completed and signed verification form with them to their appointment with the Illinois Department of Human Services. Download a verification form here.

Continue reading Governor signs College Hunger Bill, assuring low-income community college students can access food security via SNAP

Keith Freeman on overcoming the frustration of feeling voiceless

Keith Freeman often tells the homeless people he meets, “It’s not where you’re from but where you’re at.”

Tough circumstances leave many of the men and women he meets feeling hopeless. But having overcome homelessness himself, Keith knows life can get better when opportunities are available to those struggling without a home.

Organizer Keith Freeman with leaders, Labor Day 2017 (Photo by Allison Williams)

Keith works as a community organizer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). Each month he runs outreach at a dozen shelters serving parents and families. He educates people on their rights and options and organizes new leaders for a citywide CCH campaign now in development. Continue reading Keith Freeman on overcoming the frustration of feeling voiceless

Join CCH at Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen!

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is excited to partner with Broadway in Chicago again to bring you exclusive ticket access to two critically-acclaimed Broadway musicals.

Friday, October 5, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., CIBC Theatre (18 W. Monroe Street)

Purchase Hamilton tickets here. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019 at 7:30 p.m., Oriental Theatre (24 W. Randolph Street)

Purchase Dear Evan Hansen tickets here.

When you buy tickets to these shows through the provided links, a portion of your ticket proceeds will go directly back to CCH to help further our mission.