Patricia Nix-Hodes honored with the Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award

The Chicago Bar Foundation honored Patricia with the 2018 Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award at its July 12 Pro Bono & Public Service Awards luncheon. We are grateful to the bar foundation for recognizing our respected legal director.

The CBF writes the following:

Patricia Nix-Hodes, Director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), has spent her 26-year legal career fighting for the rights of homeless people. Whether through individual advocacy, impact litigation, or shaping public policy, Patricia’s work has had a positive and often life-changing impact on tens of thousands of people across Illinois.

In her 20-year tenure at CCH, Patricia has litigated many landmark cases, including the influential Salazar v. Edwards class action lawsuit against the Chicago Public

Patricia Nix-Hodes

Schools. Today, Patricia leads a team of six attorneys actively enforcing the consent decree, which established critical rights for homeless students and meaningful standards for CPS and has resulted in over 200,000 homeless students receiving specialized services and resources to enable them succeed in school. In 2015, she led a team of CCH and pro bono attorneys in negotiating a new policy with the City of Chicago to protect the personal property and belongings of people living on the streets. In addition to her systemic work, Patricia has individually represented hundreds of homeless families, students, and unaccompanied youth and adults. She advocates for basic civil and human rights, which include access to school, shelter, housing, employment, and the simple right to be in a public space.

Patricia is always willing take chances and push boundaries to advance social justice and improve access to legal aid for people who are homeless. Her skill and leadership as an attorney are matched by her compassion and dedication to her clients and to the attorneys and staff working with her. A former client states, “Knowing that you can stand up for yourself is empowering, but not having to fight those battles alone gives you strength. Patricia helped ensure that we never had to fight alone.” Patricia’s unwavering dedication to justice for all represents the legal profession at its best. The CBF is proud to honor her with the Morsch Award.


About the Thomas H. Morsch Award

Each year, the CBF awards the Thomas H. Morsch Award, the premier public recognition for long-time legal aid and public interest law attorneys in our community. The award, which includes a cash prize generously provided by the Morsch family, was established to recognize and reward exemplary lawyers who choose public service work as a career. The cash gift celebrates the award recipients’ accomplishments and serves to honor the financial sacrifices they have made by choosing legal aid as their life’s work.

The award is named after Thomas H. Morsch, a former partner at Sidley Austin, and a leader in the Chicago legal community who has championed the cause of public interest law for more than 40 years. Mr. Morsch headed Sidley Austin’s commercial litigation department from 1973-1995, was a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and supervised the firm’s Committee on Pro Bono and Public Interest Law for 20 years. Mr. Morsch was the first Director of the Small Business Opportunity Center at Northwestern University School of Law, now known as The Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurship Law Center. He is currently the Center’s Emeritus Director. Mr. Morsch has also served as president of The Chicago Bar Foundation and in leadership positions on the boards of numerous other charitable and legal organizations in the Chicago area.

Leader Robert Henderson speaks at national ‘Housing Not Handcuffs’ conference

By Diane O’Connell, Community Lawyer

Three staff members from the Law Project, along with Community Organizer Keith Freeman and CCH client and leader Robert Henderson, attended the “Housing Not Handcuffs Human Right to Housing Forum” this week in Washington, D.C.

Housing Not Handcuffs is a campaign of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to end the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. About 200 people attended, including organizers, attorneys, people experiencing homelessness, and government employees. The panels discussed victories and challenges over the last year. Breakout sessions focused on the work moving forward: a coordinated national effort to strike down unconstitutional panhandling laws, strategies to protect the rights of people living in encampments, ending youth homelessness, and promoting renters’ rights.

The highlight of the conference for me was the inspiring participation by Robert Henderson. He was the plaintiff in the first substantive case filed under the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, a case that the CCH Law Project settled this winter.

Robert spoke at the end of the plenary session, with nearly all the attendees at the conference present. He told his story of being at his “lowest point” while living under a bridge, only to have city employees throw away everything he owned, including his photographs and obituaries of family members.

Later, Robert also contributed his lived experience to a breakout session on panhandling. He was arrested twice for panhandling while living on the street. Once he was held in Cook County Jail for 72 hours simply because he had asked for change. Robert was the only person in the session who had personally experienced criminalization for panhandling, so he helped ground the discussion in reality. Throughout the forum, people from all over the country approached Robert to thank him for sharing his story.

The forum was reaffirming but also shed new light on the importance of CCH work representing people who live on the street.  As keynote speaker Leilani Farha, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing explained, U.S. laws go farther than just criminalizing homelessness — they dehumanize people who are homeless. This is illustrated by laws like those in Illinois that criminalize panhandling, because it is a fundamental principle of humanity that people must be able to ask other people for help.

If we recognize those experiencing homelessness as people, why would society deny them a place to sleep? To use the bathroom? To access food being provided to them by other community members? The injustice that we are fighting when we work to build power for homeless people is bigger than homelessness: It is about human rights. We left more committed than ever to struggle for those rights to be recognized for the people who most need them.

2018 college scholarships awarded Thursday

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project awarded renewable $2,500 college scholarships to five students from Chicago and Aurora who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants, CCH will award more than $370,000 to 64 students over 15 years.

Pierrerasha Goodwin, Bethany Oceguera, Charity Smith, Angelo Villazana, and Kaleyah Wesley were honored June 28 at an event hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law. A 5:30 p.m. reception was followed by a free, hour-long awards event in the 10th floor ceremonial courtroom.

“We are inspired by these students,” said Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes. “Despite unstable housing and other barriers, these teens demonstrate a commitment to their education. We look forward to seeing what they accomplish in college and beyond.” Continue reading 2018 college scholarships awarded Thursday

Media Advisory: Illinois families in deep poverty will be better able to meet basic needs through the COIN Act

First increase to TANF grant in a decade

Illinois families living in deep poverty will see a significant increase in their cash assistance, provided by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, with the adoption of the Creating Opportunities for Illinoisans in Need (COIN) Act in the 2018-2019 Illinois budget implementation bill.

The TANF program provides monthly cash assistance to needy children and their families which must cover all non-food expenses, including rent, utilities, clothing, personal hygiene products, diapers, and transportation. And while the current cash grant is much needed to help cover expenses, it is just not enough for families to fully support their basic human needs. Continue reading Media Advisory: Illinois families in deep poverty will be better able to meet basic needs through the COIN Act

CCH welcomes community organizer Bisma Shoukat

We welcomed a new community organizer to our staff this week! We asked Bisma to introduce herself.

Bisma Shoukat

My name is Bisma Shoukat. My experience as a Muslim-Indian child of immigrants is where I developed my passion for social justice work. I was in 4th grade when the 9/11 attacks happened. I had just decided to start wearing a hijab (headscarf) that year. My parents begged me to take my hijab off and I listened to them because I could tell they were genuinely worried for my safety. It broke my heart to not be able to represent such a big part of my identity. This is the moment when I realized how I am considered an “other” in the country of my origin. This is when the advocate in me woke up and the passion for creating a more just world was ignited.

Although I was born in San Jose, California, I spent four years of my early childhood in India. My family moved to India shortly after my younger siblings were born because even with both of my parents working, expenses were too high for our family of eight. Living in India left a huge impact on my heart and overall being. I was exposed to major poverty and societal injustices. Continue reading CCH welcomes community organizer Bisma Shoukat

Family homelessness in Chicago: 10,000 families, almost 80% doubled-up

The University of Chicago Urban Labs and CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing) released a study today on family homelessness: Ending Family Homelessness Report: Understanding the scale and needs of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago.

This report, for the first time, combines deduplicated data from the Chicago Homeless Services System and the Chicago Public Schools. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless served on an advisory committee to the research project.

Key findings include:

  • In the past year, approximately 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago. Four out of five of these families (just under 8,000) were living doubled-up with friends or relatives.
  • Only 13% of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago access services from the Continuum of Care.
  • Families accessing the shelter system overwhelmingly have income below the Federal Poverty Level. (Almost one in three self-report no income at the time of accessing services.) The majority are single-adult households headed by a female. Four out of 10 families in shelter self-report a disability, and one in five self-report a mental health problem.
  • Living doubled-up is the most common pathway to entering the shelter system. The majority of families (55.5%) who access shelter have previously experienced homelessness while living temporarily with others.
  • Fifty percent of families that contact the service system while at-risk of homelessness later entered shelter. Of those, half enter shelter within three months.

The reports predicts the housing needs of families that have entered the shelter system and been assessed, but those living doubled-up are not receiving assessments. The reason they have not been assessed is because the majority of the city’s current housing resources are federally funded by HUD. Families that are doubled-up do not meet HUD’s definition and therefore are ineligible for HUD’s housing resources.

Advocates are making a number of recommendations at the city and state level to address the need to better understand and assist doubled-up families as well as to address other findings from the report.

Policy Director Julie Dworkin, with CSH Illinois Program Director Betsy Benito and advocates present the family homelessness study. (Photo by Christy Savellano)

The groups supporting these recommendations are: CSH, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the HomeWorks campaign, Catholic Charities, Ounce of Prevention Fund, Heartland Alliance, and All Chicago.

On the city level, we recommend that we start to assess all doubled-up homeless families that present at school or daycare sites and connect them to resources to address their homelessness. Currently, those resources are very limited, so we also recommend that we begin to identify flexible local funding for housing and services that do not carry HUD’s restrictions. This would ensure that families who are doubled-up are defined as eligible by our service system for these new resources.

The report found that 31% percent of sheltered families had no income, 27% rely on benefits only, and 27% had income from employment. Because of those findings, we recommend that the city increase the enrollment of homeless families in community-based child care slots to 5% of all those enrolled, with an annual evaluation of how they are meeting this goal. Also, at the state level, we recommend that children from homeless families be presumed eligible for child care, with all family co-pays waived.

We also recommend the state increase its TANF cash assistance grant to 50% of the federal poverty line, which for a family of three would increase from $520 a month to $864 a month.

Finally, were concerned about the finding that nearly half of all families that enter the shelter system sought support services but were not prevented from becoming homeless. These families could have been prevented from entering the system, but funding for homelessness prevention has been cut drastically in recent years. In addition, the study found that many of the families were ineligible for reasons such as needing to prove ability to pay all future rent.

Because of this, we want to increase funding for homelessness prevention grants, which provide emergency cash grants to families to keep them in their housing. At the state level, we want to increase funding from $4.9 million to $6.9 million. We also recommend that the city commit $2 million of its own resources for prevention. We also recommend that the eligibility criteria for prevention be expanded so that more families that apply for help can be assisted.

The Urban Labs/CSH study was supported by the Polk Bros. Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, and Pierce Family Foundation.

– Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy


Media Advisory: CCH press conference on Lower Wacker eviction

On June 1, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) provided notice to the homeless residents of Lower Wacker that they must vacate “the Triangle” on June 11. The notice states that all people must vacate the area and remove all of their property, or it will be subject to disposal by the city. An email from a nearby building management company indicates that the purpose of the construction is to block homeless people from sleeping there.

The city’s decision to put up barricades around the Triangle comes on the heels of a recent street sweep in the Triangle, where on May 15 city workers seized homeless people’s property and forced them to move in a manner that violated the city’s own street cleaning policy, which it adopted pursuant to a settlement agreement reached with Lower Wacker residents who were represented by CCH attorneys.

Continue reading Media Advisory: CCH press conference on Lower Wacker eviction

Illinois enacts state budget funding homeless programs

Illinois General Assembly has concluded its 2018 legislative session. In its budget advocacy, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless organizers brought 220 leaders and students to Springfield for 10 lobby days.

The budget bill, Senate Bill 108, funds homeless and housing services during FY19, which will begin July 1. Despite $44 million in cuts to other human services line items, the homeless youth programs received a $500,000 increase, to $6 million, while funds for emergency and transitional housing gained $1 million, to $10.3 million. Funding for homelessness prevention grants and supportive housing line items remained the same from last year’s budget package. Continue reading Illinois enacts state budget funding homeless programs

CCH golf outing set for August 20 in Wilmette

Left to Right: Brian Kahn, Tom Hartman, Chris Sanders, and Bill Watson

Registrations are available as Chicago Coalition for the Homeless brings its annual golf outing back to the Wilmette Golf Club for a fourth year. 

Set for Monday, August 20, the event kicks off with a grilled lunch at 12 noon and tee-off at 1:30 p.m. After golfing, participants enjoy cocktails and a dinner reception, with the opportunity to bid on fabulous silent auction prizes. Continue reading CCH golf outing set for August 20 in Wilmette

Kudos! Reentry’s Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill passes, goes to the governor

Headed to the Governor! With a final Illinois Senate vote Wednesday, the General Assembly passed House Bill 5341, the Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill.

RROCI partners celebrate passing the FATE bill, including (fourth from left) Mercedes González, Glenn Brown, State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, and Ali Simmons.

The FATE bill would bar judges from considering an individual’s fines, fees, or outstanding financial obligations when reviewing a petition to seal their criminal record. It does not eliminate the debt, but would stop judges from refusing to seal a record until all fines or fees are paid.

The issue arose after people sought to seal their records, as allowed under 2017 legislation (HB2373). The record-sealing measure was advocated by the CCH Reentry Project and its partners in the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI) — Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. Continue reading Kudos! Reentry’s Fair Access to Employment (FATE) bill passes, goes to the governor