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

CCH says goodbye to Senior Organizer Rachel Ramirez

Rachel Ramirez, a senior organizer, is leaving CCH to pursue a Ph.D in management and organizations, and in sociology, at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She plans to research community organizing as a model of organizational leadership.

We asked Rachel to reflect on her six years of organizing people who experience homelessness.

“Let me say from experience, the women being held didn’t learn, gain, or accomplish ANYTHING!”

Glenda Sykes speaking before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013.

These were one of my grassroots leader’s words, assessing what women in prostitution got out of their incarceration for what was then a felony sentence in Illinois. She said them as part of her testimony before the Illinois Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013, with an emphatic tone that was deadly serious and painfully ironic, eyes glowing, voice steady, wearing a yellow CCH T-shirt. She also said them privately to me 20 or 30 times over the phone, in my office, in Dunkin Donuts, on the Amtrak train down to Springfield, as we worked together over many hours to hone her 3-minute testimony. Her words were key to passing SB1872, which “de-felonized” (her term) prostitution in Illinois. Continue reading CCH says goodbye to Senior Organizer Rachel Ramirez

Amended complaint alleges discrimination against homeless people in the Uptown neighborhood

City of Chicago endangering cyclists, violating Bill of Rights for the Homeless

New bike lakes under Lake Shore Drive solely to discriminate against homeless people in Uptown, attorneys allege

Today, an amended complaint was filed alleging discrimination against homeless people in the Uptown neighborhood by the city of Chicago.

Lawyers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Uptown People’s Law Center, and Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP filed the complaint on behalf of the homeless residents of Uptown who took shelter under the viaducts before the construction. The encampment was destroyed by police in September to make way for bridge repair.

This week, the city of Chicago painted bike lanes on the sidewalk under the Lake Shore Drive overpasses on Wilson and Lawrence Avenues. Putting bike lanes on sidewalks is against the city of Chicago’s own policies and is known to be dangerous for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. The lawyers allege the city is doing this specifically to prevent homeless people from taking shelter under the viaducts, which is discriminatory and in violation of the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless.

Continue reading Amended complaint alleges discrimination against homeless people in the Uptown neighborhood

Youth Futures presented as a model at the Equal Justice Conference

CCH’s Youth Futures mobile legal aid clinic was presented as a model during the recent Equal Justice Conference in San Diego. The national conference is sponsored by the American Bar Association and the Public Service and National Legal Aid & Defense Association.

Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes discussed the CCH legal clinic that represents more than 400 homeless and unaccompanied youths a year. She was among the presenters for a May 11 panel on “Using Behavioral and Social Sciences as a Next Step to Improving Legal Services.”

From left, Joseph Sullivan, Adam Murray, Patricia Nix-Hodes, and Sophie Bryan

Other panelists included Adam Murray, executive director of the Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles; Sophie Bryan, executive director of Philadelphia VIP; and Joseph Sullivan, counsel and director of pro bono programs at Pepper Hamilton LLP in Philadelphia. Continue reading Youth Futures presented as a model at the Equal Justice Conference

American Writers Museum hosts Horizons showcase

Director of Organizing Wayne Richard

Horizons welcomed an enthusiastic audience to its 2018 writers showcase. Held at the American Writers Museum, our May 22 event featured original poetry read by homeless shelter-resident authors, most of them mothers and their older children.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is grateful to our city’s newest museum for generous sponsorship of this year’s showcase. Opened last May, the American Writers Museum, 180 North Michigan, was voted Illinois’ best attraction in a USA Today Readers Choice poll and named one of the world’s 10 best new museums by Fodor’s.

“American writing happens in homeless shelters as surely as it does in any writing classroom,” said AWM President Carey Cranston. “AWM is proud to help celebrate the work of the writers in the Horizons program.” Continue reading American Writers Museum hosts Horizons showcase