Voting: How people experiencing homelessness can register to vote

Updated Nov. 5

By Niya Kelly, State Legislative Director

Illinois residents who are homeless have the right to vote in the state and national election on Tuesday, Nov. 6, even if they are not yet registered to vote. The 2018 election will decide many key offices, including governor, state legislators, and U.S. House members.

If you live on the street, in shelters, or doubled-up in the homes of others, you are considered homeless.

You can check online to see if you’re registered:

Continue reading Voting: How people experiencing homelessness can register to vote

Response to Mayor Emanuel’s comments on our proposal to dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago

On Wednesday, October 31, 2018, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he opposed a measure introduced in City Council that would raise Chicago’s one-time Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) on the sale of properties valued at more than $1 million to fund programs that would dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago. Under the proposal, Chicago’s electorate would have an opportunity to vote for this plan as a referendum question on the February 2019 ballot for city elections.  

In response to the Mayor’s statement, the Bring Chicago Home campaign issued the following statement: 

We’re disappointed that Mayor Emanuel rejected an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for the good of Chicago by allowing city voters to act on their desire to combat homelessness. Polls show voters already think alleviating homelessness should be a higher priority for the city, and the urgency to act is only going to escalate if city leaders continue to let the problem languish.

Chicago’s spending on homelessness remains dead-last on a per-capita basis compared to the 10 cities with the largest homeless populations – and next-to-last on the amount of funding per-homeless-person. That’s a troubling record that must change with the next mayor.

This campaign is only beginning, and with the support of more than 30 aldermen – and with public-opinion polling showing that more than two-thirds of city voters favor our solution to the plight of homelessness in Chicago – we’re determined to build on our strengths.

‘Bring Chicago Home’ would end the homelessness that impacts too many in Chicago


Proposed Funding Mechanism Resonates With Voters, According to Poll, Would Shrink Homeless Population by Nearly 36,000 in 10 Years

With more than 80,000 Chicagoans grappling with homelessness – nearly a quarter of them children struggling to stay in school – a broad coalition of policy advocates, elected officials, and community groups embarked today on a campaign to combat the problem, introducing a proposal that the bulk of the city’s likely voters are prepared to support, public opinion research shows.

The Bring Chicago Home campaign will be announced at a 9:30 a.m. press conference today on the second floor of City Hall.

More than three-fourths of likely voters believe the city needs to redouble efforts to combat homelessness – and two-thirds favor a one-time tax on properties sold for $1 million or more to do it – according to a poll conducted for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). Those findings provide an impetus for a City Council measure being introduced October 31 that would seek voter permission to supplement funding for homelessness-relief by instilling a modicum of progressivity into city’s flat tax on real estate sales.

Under the funding formula, Chicago’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) would increase by 1.2 percentage points on properties sold for $1 million or more – a threshold that would not affect 95% of all property owners, based on the average volume of transactions recorded annually. The concept garnered support from 66% of respondents in an April 2018 poll of likely city voters, conducted for CCH by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.

Continue reading ‘Bring Chicago Home’ would end the homelessness that impacts too many in Chicago

CCH welcomes organizer Alyssa Rodriguez

Alyssa Rodriguez joined the staff this week, our new organizer in schools and the Latinx community. We asked Alyssa to tell us about herself.

Organizer Alyssa Rodriguez (Photo by Claire Sloss)

I was first introduced to organizing when I moved to Chicago to attend college. At that time, community organizations including STOP were fighting to open a trauma center on the South Side. I was pulled into the campaign by student organizers with Students for Health Equity (SHE).

My experience was both invigorating and eye-opening. Immediately, I realized that institutions were often resistant and hostile to social change. On the other hand, I learned that communities could mobilize into powerful coalitions to fight for health and racial justice.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles in a predominately low-income Latino community. My passion for social justice began when I first experienced homelessness at the age of 7. I witnessed firsthand how intersecting systems of inequality could leave my single mother without the means to support her four children. While I sometimes felt angry and isolated by my circumstances, I was inspired by my family’s resilience.

I recently graduated from the University of Chicago, where I majored in anthropology and race/ethnic studies. I’m excited to bring my organizing experiences and my knowledge to work with CCH. I have a lot to learn but I’m looking forward to meeting our partners and expanding CCH outreach in the homeless community.

Gloria cares enough to fight

You wouldn’t be the first person to ask Gloria Davis why she works so hard and for so long as a community leader at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“Advocating for change,” she explains, “helped change my life.”

Gloria volunteers with the Reentry Project at CCH. She speaks out on behalf of people with criminal records, people trying to rebuild their lives in the community – the same tough position she was in just five years ago. Continue reading Gloria cares enough to fight

Speakers Bureau kicks off a new year in schools and the community

This fall the Speakers Bureau welcomed several new community leaders into the program, now with 16 speakers. Our team reaches about 4,000 people every year, with more than 75 speaking events at schools, congregations and civic groups across the Chicago area.

Our Speakers Bureau team

Our team gathered for the annual Speakers Bureau Retreat on August 22. We engaged in team-building activities and enjoyed time together to kick off the new school year.

There have already been several events this school year. We are excited to branch out into more communities and reach more students.

Recently, at an engagement hosted by Resurrection University, an audience member said, “It is so important for us working in healthcare to hear real life experiences from real people. I will never forget these stories as I work in the field of nursing.”

Continue reading Speakers Bureau kicks off a new year in schools and the community

Service providers meet with CCH organizers to discuss work into 2019

Providers’ Lunch at St. Leonard’s Ministries, in a discussion led by Organizer Bisma Shoukat (Photos by Claudia Cabrera)

Staff representing 14 homeless service providers participated in the CCH community organizing staff’s fall provider’s lunch, where they discussed initiatives underway locally and in Springfield.

Hosted by St. Leonard’s Ministries, the lunch is one of three held through the year to involve providers in advocacy led by CCH and its homeless leaders, some of whom receive services from these providers.

At the Sept. 20 lunch, providers heard from Maxica Williams, a formerly homeless mother active at CCH since meeting organizer Keith Freeman during his outreach at Madonna House. This included Maxica’s legislative testimony that helped win the first increase in a decade to Illinois families assisted by Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).

Maxica Williams

“Seeing the growth in these leaders encourages providers to stay involved,” Keith explained.

Providers learned about local CCH initiatives that seek increased financial support of key programs, including homeless prevention grants for households, said Associate Organizing Director Jim Picchetti. They also discussed the calendar cycle for setting the state budget and ways that providers can help in 2019, such as in-district meetings with legislators.

Associate Organizing Director Jim Picchetti

Chicago-based service providers participating were Breakthrough Ministries, Catholic Charities’ Madonna House, Christian Community Health Center, Cornerstone Community Outreach, Franciscan Outreach, Matthew House, North Side Housing & Supportive Services, Olive Branch Mission, Salvation Army/Booth Lodge, Single Room Housing Assistance Corp. (SRHAC), and St. Leonard’s Ministries.

Suburban providers attending were Hesed House of Aurora, Housing Forward of Maywood/Oak Park, and Love Fellowship Baptist Church of Romeoville.

– Anne Bowhay, Media

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