WGN-TV: Lawsuit filed in Medicaid applications processing delay

By Tonya Francisco

A lawsuit was filed Wednesday to help people who can’t get medical care because there is a delay in processing Medicaid applications.

Health care advocates and attorneys claim Illinois is not only behind in processing thousands of Medicaid applications, it’s also failing to issue temporary medical cards.

See the TV report here, with interviews of attorneys at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Council for Health Justice.

The Legal Council for Health Justice is one of several law offices that have filed a motion in federal court to force the state to abide by a 1979 consent decree that requires the state to determine eligibility for Medicaid within 45 days or offer temporary medical assistance to people while they wait.

As a result, the office says seniors have not been able to get necessary medications, people are not getting lifesaving surgeries and newborns are not being added to their parents’ cases.

Department of Human Services officials have blamed the problem on a new computer system that went online in October.

WGN News reached out to the department of human services and the governor’s office for a response but we did not hear back.

State legislators have held hearings on the issue as they search for a solution.

CCH Editor’s Note: WGN erred when it reported that Ms. Gassenheimer’s client had her Medicaid application denied after 90 days. Medicaid failed to respond at all, so an appeal was filed.

The Daily Line: IDHS flounders – $300M IT system still kicking countless Illinoisans off Medicaid and SNAP, caseworkers overloaded, claims delayed up to 7 months

CCH Editor’s Note:

Tanya Gassenheimer, second from left, testifies at a House committee hearing. (Photo by Niya Kelly)

Youth Health Attorney Tanya Gassenheimer was among those who testified April 30 about egregious delays experienced by legal aid clients applying for public benefits using an online system overhauled by the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS).

Ms. Gassenheimer told of a homeless high school student, 19, who arrived for her SNAP appeal hearing after not eating in three days. IDHS had wrongfully cut off the youth’s food assistance and was unresponsive in resolving its mistake. Since October, 90% of Law Project’s clients who applied for Medicaid and SNAP have had no action taken on their aid applications, forcing them to file appeals.

IDHS fails to honor its own policy manual, which requires that IDHS issue decisions on applications within 45 days, Ms. Gassenheimer tesified. For 100% of these appeals, IDHS similarly failed to schedule a pre-hearing conference within 10 days, another policy manual mandate.

At another client’s hearing in March, an IDHS staff member acknowledged delays of six to seven months in processing applications at her office. At a third hearing in February, the online system for her client’s account had not been updated since November, Ms. Gassenheimer said.

IDHS workers have told Ms. Gassenheimer that documents were lost due to the overhaul of the online system. They told her that they have logged into the system to open documents that appear to be there, only to find empty files.


By Rae Hodge of The Daily Line

Overloaded workers, health vendors call on House panel for help as families go hungry and medical treatments are interrupted

More than 40,000 Medicaid recipients were wrongly barred from crucial support services last October after an update to the Department of Human Services’ electronic enrollment system triggered widespread IT failures. Seven months later, the problems persist. Some vendors still haven’t been paid for emergency services to Medicaid patients. Health and Family Service employees are still buried under mountains of paper applications. And the number of those kicked off Medicaid has grown to more than 150,000.

Caseworkers with the department, benefits recipients and human services advocates gathered in Chicago Monday to offer testimony to the House Appropriations Human Services Committee. They said the IT problems and resulting paperwork pile-up have become pervasive since the second-phase roll-out of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s technology consolidation plan, the Integrated Eligibility System upgrade.

[HFS timeline for IES updates and state IMPACT system rollout]

Witnesses told lawmakers while Deloitte’s $300 million system was supposed to ease the labor load on DHS’ sharply slashed workforce numbers by automating certain data entry processes, it has instead more than doubled their work. Similar Deloitte creations have faced multi-million dollar state government lawsuits across the nation.

[Boston Globe: Deloitte IT projects plagued with troubles around the country]Although they were not present, Committee Chair State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said DHS and HFS officials had been invited to attend the hearing.Thane Dykstra is the CEO of Trinity Services, which provides daily supports for more than 2000 disabled adults in the state. He told lawmakers the state already owes Trinity $450,000 in past due Medicaid claims related to IES roll-out problems. Because the system continues to wrongly kick his fully-disabled adult clients off Medicaid rolls, that total hasn’t stopped growing.“Every month more people seem to fall off the list,” he said. “Every month our agency is spending cash to purchase food so our people can eat. And again, the problem is that issues roll. So a few people get it fixed this month, and more people come on this list this month. This is a cumulative problem, and especially with the problem of SNAP benefits because I just don’t think the agencies are going to have a mechanism to reimburse the agencies for food.”Dykstra said costs are mounting beyond food and care to include his staff’s loss of hours repeatedly fixing the same problems, making calls to agencies which go unanswered by a shrunken DHS staff, faxing and re-faxing forms which end up lost or wrongly rejected by the system, following-up on forms that are re-directed across state offices so long that their claim-filing deadlines have passed.Dykstra said the concern runs top-to-bottom at Trinity.

“They’re really afraid for people receiving supports, and they’re mindful of being good stewards of money. And so they’re worried when they know how much money the agency hasn’t been paid for and how much money we’re having to spend to provide food to the people we support.”

Dykstra is calling on administration officials to commit to paying back-due claims and to provide a plan for vendors during the continued IES problems, but DHS is short on answers and short on staff.

“It’s been primarily one caseworker in the Joliet office that has successfully resolved our claims,” he said. “They are simply overwhelmed and they can’t help everyone right now who needs assistance.”

Lori Gladsden, a human services caseworker out of Tazewell County, has over 22 years of experience at the Pekin offices.

Gladsden said the new data-entry requirements of IES have caused a daily pile-up of foot traffic in human services offices by people who can’t get through on the phones and who have come to be treated by the department as just another number.

“They have taken the human part out of the human services. IES has us so bogged down that from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day we have to pull all of the caseworkers except for our phone interviewers into just taking care of people in the lobby,” she said.

[Deloitte pitch materials: “technology reboot” promises to “cut fat” through IL’s IT]

“DHS tries to say it’s worker error. It’s not. There are so many known problems. Three times a day we report on how IES is working–at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. We’ve got a scale from one to five. Nine times out 10, it’s a one.”

Gladsden pointed to case after case of protracted, manual data entry that bogged down workers. In one glaring instance, she described a last-minute announcement just two days before the IES roll-out, notifying DHS workers that 11,000 old cases would not be transferred into the new system as promised.

“DHS has had people working on coding these cases for two years so that it would convert automatically when they did phase two of this IES. But then two or three days before the roll-out came they told us we would have to go in and manually convert a case before you could do anything on it because what they had just done for two years did not work,” she said. “How much money did they waste on Deloitte and temporary workers trying to get this to process?”

Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Northlake) said she was extremely disappointed at the administration’s lack of showing at the hearing, and called for the committee to summon DHS Director Felicia Norwood in any way they could.

“We need to have them step up and if they don’t show up to the next one I say somehow or other we subpoena them and make sure they do show up,” said Willis, looking down-row to speak to Harris.

“Director Norwood, somebody’s lying someplace on this and we better get this straightened out,” Willis said, adding she hoped the director was listening. “Because she told me to my face when I confronted her with this question that it was not going to affect anyone, that it was just sanctions, and anybody that was currently enrolled in Blue Cross Blue Shield would not have any interruptions in their coverage. And obviously we’re hearing from someone who is having this, who acutely needs to continue that coverage, that this is not true. So I truly do hope that it is being relayed.”

With more than 30 years under her belt, human services caseworker Vonceil Metts said DHS’ Northwest Office in Chicago is also facing a crushing tide of Illinoisans failed by IES’ overhaul and state worker cuts.

“We open at 8 o’clock. People are generally outside 6:30, 7 o’clock in the morning waiting to get those selected slots that they’ll take. There’s a certain cut-off, a number of people that they’ll take every day into the office as walk-ins so those people who are out there at 6:30 in the morning they really need those food stamps and they’re still in the office two hours, maybe three hours later. And some of them are turned away so they don’t get serviced at all,” said Metts.

She said caseworkers weren’t even taught how to convert old cases in the new system until the day IES was being used with Illinoisans, and simple tasks that might have previously taken five minutes now take 45 minutes.

“Now we have a new rule with IES two,” she said. “The rule is you can only spend 45 minutes with a customer.“

Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) expressed his frustration with the setbacks, adding that the issue hit home for him.

“The DHS office on the west side is just a little outside of my district,” he said. “So I see those lines. Not only are those lines visible to me, but my family members, my friends, my neighbors–they stand in those lines and they need those benefits.”

Willis pointed out that the lapse in mental health care services to those filing unanswered claims directly impacted the administration’s position of mental health treatment as a means of gun crime prevention.

“Rep. Ford and I are going this afternoon to another meeting regarding public safety and one of the most important things we’re hearing is: Those red flags when people need to get the help they get so that we don’t have breakdowns in our public safety. Well, if we’re not helping them to get the help, what the heck do we expect to happen?,” she said.

Illinois Hunger Coalition Executive Director Diane Doherty said her group serves over 10,000 households annually.

“In all the years that I’ve been here, which is a very long time, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “Prior to the roll-out of phase two on Oct. 25, the state of Illinois had a 98 percent timeliness for SNAP benefits. So we were one of the best in the country in terms of getting folks their much-needed food stamps on time. Since then, it’s out the window. We even recently had one of the local office tell us to forget about expedited SNAP which is required by federal law.”

The Hunger Coalition works with local agency branches regularly to help the poorest Illinoisans.

“Some of the offices that we go to, they see up to a thousand people in a day. Most of these offices are not built to welcome that many people in there but that’s what they’re forced to do,” she said. “Two weeks ago one of the local offices told us that they were doing October’s medicaid applications.”

Rep. David Olsen (R-Downers Grove) called the IES issues unacceptable.

“This IES system replaced systems that were over 40 years old. I think we need to continue to work on this system because we do need to modernize our system and modernize our infrastructure. I think that’s generally agreed, but we do need to make sure that what we do fits the needs that we have in the state, so I hope the department and the vendor continue to work with the staff and the clients on the front lines.”

Reading an April 27 letter from DHS Secretary James Dimas to the committee, Olsen said: “This week there was a 63 percent improvement in the number of time-outs or errors that caseworkers experienced in processing cases, and the average time it takes for a caseworker to determine eligibility in the system is down 49 percent from last month.”

Olsen said that the improvements, while encouraging, were not nearly enough.

Harris called the issue a poster child for government waste.

“We’re looking at today the poster child of waste, fraud and abuse in government,” he said. “It reminds us too of the 12,000 long-term care (Medicaid) determinations that were also found unprocessed in boxes and closets. Now we’re under a court order to process all of those. That’s going to cost us $300 million more.”

Harris took a swing at Rauner’s contract for the system and his claims that IT consolidation at the department would save money.

“When you hear about hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, that’s because you’ve knocked people off the rolls and it will take them seven months to get back on. For those seven months those people do not get their healthcare,” he said. “Do you attribute this to incompetence or do you attribute this a plan? I don’t know, but we intend to continue to look into this and find out.”

He said it made him heart sick.

“You think about the hundreds of people who were not able to come here, who were not connected enough to get on our radar, who are worried so much just about surviving from day to day and doing their jobs and paying their rent and getting their children to whatever healthcare the state has decided it will allow them to have in this ongoing cyclone mess,” he said.

His chairmanship of the House Appropriations Human Services Committee means Harris is tasked with measuring the depth of injuries endured by the state’s human services during the two-year budget impasse. Since last summer, a parade of desperation and vulnerability has passed in front of his gavel.

State workers too proud to quit, scared parents who are trying to keep their kids’ oxygen tanks full, senior caretakers with tired eyes, and furious advocates–they’ve all come before this panel. They unwind their stories delicately as bandages to reveal the gruesome damage left untreated after the state’s brutal budget fight, looking for–if nothing better–at least one more band-aid to help them make it through the year.

Core Problems: While the stakeholders testifying at the subject matter hearing represented a range of relationships to the state’s human services, all of them reported facing nearly identical problems. The following briefing lists those problems shared by the greatest number of impacted Illinoisans.

[Feb. 27 briefing from Arc of Illinois on new Medicaid issues]

  • Thousands of critically ill kids and their parents are tasked with navigating a maze of paperwork which is repeatedly lost or wrongly denied for months at a time. Parents are being provided incorrect or conflicting information on state medicaid forms, phone calls often require waiting on hold in a queue of hundreds, and physical offices are either considered inaccessible or require up to eight hours of in-office waiting time. An untold number of paper applications have been destroyed by faulty office equipment and countless more applications sat untouched for months after DHS gave the wrong fax number to applicants. Children are increasingly at risk as time-sensitive medical treatments are disrupted, and parents are losing jobs as they wait in line for hours to obtain life-saving care for ailing family members or themselves.
  • While most witnesses testified that residents’ SNAP benefits are being cut too short by the state, others noted the state is overloading other SNAP accounts with large sums of money. Recipients could be liable for the funds if spent. A growing number of elderly SNAP recipients are receiving conflicting information from DHS, refusing to use their benefits, and going without meals because they are afraid the state will cancel their accounts and pursue charges against them. State lawmakers have no way to assess how wide-ranging the issue of overpayment has become. Religious groups continue to pick up the slack but are wearing thin.
  • State workers at DHS and HFS, most particularly caseworkers, are spread dangerously thin across workloads which have more than doubled following repeated electronic system failures. Caseworkers describe being caught between an increasingly angry public, an IT system which multiplies each filing task several times, and (for some) newly imposed per-person time limits. State workers are being blamed for setbacks by administration officials despite the digital paper trail left as they complete mandatory daily IES surveys and meeting minutes detailing HFS’ knowledge of potential added workloads. In one standout instance, caseworkers were required to manually enter the same information for 11,000 people not once, but twice, following a failed two-year coding project which cost the state millions.
  • The state may be in non-compliance with federal law as expedited SNAP benefit programs have all but been given up on in some parts of the state. And other federal compliance problems have become apparent: Federal law requires food stamp recipients to complete half-year reports with updated financial eligibility information, but states overcome by applicant backlogs can apply for a waiver through the USDA. Illinois previously applied for this waiver through the budget impasse. Expecting speedier automated processing via IES two, Illinois did not re-apply for another waiver. IES two’s failure then created the legal necessity for an additional report for nearly every SNAP recipient in the state, while the Medicaid application backlog is worse than it was when the waiver was last obtained.
  • Community service and health care providers are owed millions of dollars in back-due compensation from the state after footing the bill to provide emergency food, services and medicine to medicaid recipients in life-or-death situations. Providers says they can’t get older medicaid claims honored, there aren’t enough caseworkers employed at local agencies to handle the nuanced medical paperwork process, and there is no mechanism by which the state can compensate them for the cash they’ve spent on food for Illinoisans.

Medill Reports Chicago: Controversial Chicago ID card now available to the homeless, undocumented immigrants & others

CCH Editor’s Note:

Organizer Keith Freeman is interviewed in the Medill Reports video about the advantages of the new CityKey card for people who are homeless.

By Juliette Rocheleau
Medill Reports

A new program allows Chicago residents to register for a city-issued ID card. The completely optional card is aimed at “unlocking” the city by breaking down barriers to attaining government-issued photo ID, regardless of housing or citizenship status. The card also allows residents to choose male, female or nonbinary gender markers, or to leave gender off the card entirely.

In February while the card was in a pilot period, City Clerk Anna Valencia said that as a government-issued ID, the card could be used by citizens to register to vote. CityKey policy opponents worried that this would lead to a rise in voter fraud. When Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson brought the subject up, the issue gained national attention.

“I was getting calls from the media from all over- from Florida and other places!” said Illinois State Board of Elections information officer Matt Dietrich. According to Dietrich, he does not see the CityKey policy leading to increased voter fraud due to parameters put in place to prevent this felony, including the signed admission that you are a citizen completed upon registering to vote.

CityKey cards are now available via mobile printers housed by community partners around the city. More information can be found on the CityKey website here.

Photo at top: Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, whose office is responsible for overseeing the policy’s implementation, discusses the card. (Juliette Rocheleau/MEDILL)

Illinois News Network: Lawmakers reject plan to give churches immunity from lawsuits for housing homeless

By Cole Lauterbach

Illinois lawmakers shot down a plan to keep homeless people from suing the churches that allow them to come in from the cold.

State Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, said the Kankakee churches in her district want to help homeless people to stay out of the cold, but don’t because they’re afraid of getting sued if someone gets hurt during their stay.

“My churches will not open their doors because they are afraid of being sued and having the liability, especially in the ever-growing litigious society that we live in,” she told the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Her bill would have given churches sheltering the homeless a level of legal immunity from lawsuits when they take in a homeless person overnight. She said the area doesn’t have adequate shelter during dangerously cold nights. The bill would have applied to counties with fewer than 300,000 people.

Niya Kelly with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said people shouldn’t lose their right to sue just to come in from the cold.

“We don’t take that ability to sue away from someone just because you are providing that assistance,” she said.

Most of the lawmakers agreed.

“The Bible says ‘Come as you are,’ not ‘Come as you are as long as you’re not going to sue our church,’ ” said Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City.

The measure was voted down and isn’t scheduled to be reconsidered.

WLS-TV: Northwest Side students create portable shelters for the homeless

By John Garcia

Middle school students in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood have designed and built a prototype for a portable homeless shelter.

They’re the invisible population in Chicago. The thousands of people who have no permanent place to live.

A group of middle school students at the HSA Belmont Charter School developed a possible solutions.

At first glance, the structure looks like some sort of a vehicle, made of plywood with wheels and attached by a tow rod to a bike. It’s got a little door and a couple windows, enough room to sleep in and even store some possessions. And this would be the place they call home.

The 11-and-12-year-old students who designed and built this structure named it “Hope.” It’s a portable homeless shelter.

“It’ll help them have a warm place to stay, somewhere they can relax and not be in the cold,” said student Jozlyn Aquerro.

“Even if we’re not buying them a mansion or a three-bedroom home, this is a place they can stay and can sleep and can have a piece of humanity,” said student Jayla Brown.

The project is the brainchild of their teacher, Peter Legrand. As an engineering teacher, he wanted the kids to apply what they learned to try to solve social problems.

“Initially I thought we would be at for three to four weeks and it became clear that there was something much bigger going on. They really wanted to change the world,” said Legrand.

It is increasingly difficult for the homeless population in Chicago to find shelter.

The director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said there are more than 16,000 homeless people on the streets and in shelters in Chicago.

“I think it’s great for the school to engage kids into thinking about homelessness and about what it means,” said Doug Schenkelberg, director of the Chicago Coalition for Homeless.

LINK to the video

The students named the structure “Hope.” Their teacher can relate.

“I have experienced homelessness personally and I can say that what makes a difference is hope,” said Legrand.

All the materials involved, including the bike, which was donated, cost about $150.

The school believes this a prototype that could be mass-produced. Either way, their teacher said it’s been quite an education.

Crain’s Chicago Business, Opinion: Loop ‘security guards’ a dangerous precedent

Getty Images/iStockphoto

 

By Doug Schenkelberg

If you spend any time in Chicago’s Loop, you will encounter people grappling with homelessness. They may be looking to passers-by for help, or they may be simply trying to make it through their day. Because Chicago lacks enough shelter beds and permanent supportive housing to assist those in need, we see hundreds of people who make their lives on the streets of Chicago.

More: More Chicago hospitals are getting into the housing business

This month, Chicago Loop Alliance announced hiring two armed, private security guards to patrol a portion of the Loop. “Aggressive panhandling” is among the reported issues that these new guards will address on patrol. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has many concerns about the addition of armed guards to police downtown streets.

People coping with homelessness already experience high levels of harassment by some Chicago police officers. Homeless people are targeted, often accused of panhandling that is “aggressive”—an offense that can be ticketed—all in a push to drive them out.

Under the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless, people who are homeless have the right to move freely in public spaces. It is our fear, based on many years of working on this issue, that with this new program downtown harassment will increase, making it even harder for people trying to get by.

Homelessness is a complex issue. It impacts people struggling with extreme poverty and all too often managing trauma and mental health issues. Adding guns and lesser-trained security guards to that mix is a recipe for escalation. A situation that could and should be dealt with from a place of support could easily turn into something regrettable for everyone involved.

The sad fact that there are homeless people subsisting on Loop streets should lead to a public discussion on how we collectively solve homelessness. Loop Alliance did not reach out to homeless advocates for input on its decision to put armed guards on downtown streets. Had they talked with us, we would have pointed out that resources are better spent advocating for more affordable housing—the only true solution to homelessness.

Doug Schenkelberg is executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Link to Crain’s article

Link to Chicago Loop Alliance media release

Racked: Homeless Doesn’t Always Look the Way You Might Think

Secondhand clothing,  donations, and more mean that people experiencing homelessness might not stand out.


Photo: Caiaimage/Sam Edwards/Getty Images

When most people hear the word “homeless,” a very specific image comes to mind, and it’s not pretty. But as Liz Waite, a 24-year-old undergraduate student at Cal State Long Beach points out, “the visible homeless, those on the street and who are mentally ill, are just the tip of the iceberg.” With a parent addicted to opioids, she left home at age 18 and spent six years couchsurfing, until May of 2017. “I was unmoored, staying at other people’s homes. It was really hard, excruciatingly difficult.

“You can’t judge a person’s socio-economic position by their clothes,” she says. “Designer clothes don’t mean anything.” Nice clothes cost less than a meal when purchased second-hand. However, Waite learned that dressing well can be a detriment. When heading to the welfare office in a vintage dress, her mentor stopped her, saying, “You can’t walk in there looking like Audrey Hepburn and expect to get help. You have to look the part.” She laughs, “It’s not good for your PR as a poor person [to dress nice].” People tend to see things superficially, she points out. “If you see a middle-class person driving down the street in a nice car, it doesn’t mean they are not drowning in debt. People are very biased creatures.”

While Cal State Long Beach doesn’t supply clothing to needy students, it does have a food pantry and occasional student group-sponsored collections for professional attire. “We should probably start working on a clothing pantry,” says Waite. “And handing out laundry cards as well. There are times you can’t afford laundry and have to hand-wash your clothes in the sink. It takes a lot of effort and time.” Continue reading Racked: Homeless Doesn’t Always Look the Way You Might Think

WTTW: Englewood school closures could harm homeless CPS students, advocates say

Some 54,669 students were identified as homeless last year by the Illinois State Board of Education. More than a quarter of those, or about 15,000 students, are currently enrolled in Chicago Public Schools.

At Paul Robeson High School in Englewood, more than a quarter of the 130 or so students are homeless, according to district data. That’s more than six times the CPS average. One in four students at TEAM Englewood Community Academy are homeless, too, as are about one out of every five students at Hope College Prep, also in Englewood.

Those students could be among the 400-plus in Englewood looking for a new school this fall if the Chicago Board of Education moves ahead with a proposal to shutter four Englewood high schools in June – more than a year before construction of a new “state-of-the-art” high school on the Robeson campus will be completed. Harper, the fourth Englewood-area school set to close, has fewer than 10 homeless students and is the only one close to the district average this year of 4 percent.

Homeless advocates say the proposed closings would negatively impact dozens of students in temporary living situations.

“A lot of times school is the only stable thing in a homeless student’s life,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, who heads The Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“We felt there’s a very disproportionate impact on these students who are already quite vulnerable, who often already have had numerous school changes due to their residential mobility.”

The new school is set to open in fall 2019, but when it does, the students leaving existing schools won’t be able to enroll there. CPS has said the new school will welcome only a freshman class when it opens for the 2018-19 school year before filling out in subsequent years.

“For many students we work with, school is a source of stability and connection – connection to their peers, connection to their teachers – it’s really a community,” Nix-Hodes said.

“Then to be forced out of your school and out of your community at a time when a new school is being built, but current students don’t have access to that school, it just seems very unfair. It’s going to cause more hardship for students who are already vulnerable.”

State and federal laws define homeless students not only as those living on the streets or out of a vehicle, but as anyone without a “fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” In most cases that means these children are “doubled up” – forced to share housing with an extended family member or friend because they have no home of their own.

“Doubled up” students comprised 86 percent of CPS’ homeless population last school year, according to the coalition. Another 12 percent are in shelters, while the rest live either in motels, public parks or temporary foster care.

The McKinney-Vento Act – signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 – built in new supports for homeless students who had been offered little support under the previous federal law. The act requires state or local agencies to provide transportation and program access for these students, and allows them to enroll in a new school without proof of residency or guardianship if those aren’t available.

“We’ve found that homeless students in general face greater barriers to attendance, enrollment, they have higher rates of school mobility, which cause them to suffer extreme academic delays,” said Lawrence Wagner, a senior attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“It’ll certainly disrupt their relationships with teachers and their peer students, and a lot of times it leads to increased absence from schools.”

Students at the four schools will be re-zoned to other neighborhood high schools, including Phillips, Dunbar, Bogan and Gage Park. Each of the Englewood schools and the proposed receiving schools are rated between Level 2-plus and Level 3 on the district’s School Quality Rating Policy, which ranks schools from a high of 1-plus to a low of 3.

But the coalition has argued those schools aren’t performing at levels higher than the ones they were already in, and that CPS should instead reserve seats for these students in magnet and selective enrollment high schools, and extend the application deadline so they may apply before next school year.

They’ve repeatedly pointed to a UChicago Consortium on School Research study that found the only students who aren’t negatively impacted academically from the closure of their schools are those who are moved into substantially higher-performing schools.

Individual CPS schools employ STLS liaisons and clerks, and the district says its Office of Students in Temporary Living Situations assists homeless families and students in pre-K through 12th grade, addressing barriers to enrollment, transportation, attendance, retention and success.

In the Englewood transition plan, the district does specify it will continue legally-mandated supports for its homeless population, including “free school meals, enrollment support, provision of required school uniforms and school supplies as needed, transportation assistance when eligible, and waiver of all school-related fees.” Additionally, STLS students are allowed to attend a school in their current neighborhood or enroll in the school they were attending when they first lost housing.

“Every student deserves to have the support they need to succeed in and out of school,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement, “and the District is fully committed to providing additional support services for STLS students in the event the Board votes to move forward with proposed school action plans in Englewood.”

CPS will also set up one-on-one meetings between homeless students and its STLS office to discuss any unique enrollment barriers they may face in finding a new school.

Still, Wagner worries that plan doesn’t go far enough. The coalition is concerned about the proposal’s timeline and wants assurances CPS will provide homeless students with academic and social/emotional supports, and ensure a student’s new school understands what they need to graduate.

“I think overall there’s a general concern if the board votes for this change that CPS is really unprepared to effect the change,” he said. “If you look at the transition plans they have on their website, you’ll see that even some of the earlier steps in those plans indicate steps that should take place before the end of January, and that’s even by their own timeline.

“If they haven’t even voted yet to close the schools, it pushes the timeline behind and we don’t know they’ll make any adequate adjustments. Even if they do, we just feel they’re not putting enough resources and time into making sure all students transition successfully, but certainly homeless students.”

Chicago Tribune: In test of state law, Chicago homeless couple sues city, alleging property rights violated

By William Lee

A homeless couple who say they had one tent after the other removed by city crews near Lower Wacker Drive is suing the city, citing a relatively new state law that aims to give them the same property rights as those with a roof over their heads.

Amie Smith and Shawn Moore, who have lived together on the street since 2015, allege that police targeted them for a year, repeatedly forcing them to move from the downtown Chicago spot and directing city crews to throw away what few personal possessions they had — including eight tents in the course of a year, identification and photos of deceased loved ones. Those actions, they say, violated the 2013 Illinois bill of homeless rights law. The state law guarantees homeless people access to public services and the right to “move freely” through public spaces such as sidewalks, parks and public transportation and prohibits discrimination based on someone’s living situation.

The couple couldn’t be reached for comment, but one of the attorneys representing the two say they were “targeted” by the city — threatened with arrest if they didn’t pack up and move and repeatedly deprived of their belongings. Those actions were discriminatory and violated the couple’s right to privacy in their makeshift home, the attorney argues.

Kate Schwartz, an attorney with Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, compared the crews allegedly discarding the couple’s tent and possessions to the city taking and destroying an illegally parked car.

“The fact that you can’t park your car there doesn’t mean that the government can take your car away and never give it back to you,” Schwartz said. “The issue here is not about whether or not they have the right to be putting a tent there, because regardless of whether they do or don’t, the city doesn’t have the right to be taking (the couple’s tent) and destroy it when the reason they’re doing that is they’re motivated to by wanting to get homeless people to just not be in this area.”

A spokesman with the city’s Law Department said the city doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but added that the city is in compliance with the state’s homeless law.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a 38-year-old nonprofit, alone has filed three such lawsuits invoking the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, including one filed on behalf of Smith and Moore in January. Attorneys with the coalition said they reached a settlement with the city last week on a similar 2016 suit involving a homeless Chicago man who claimed that his possessions were tossed by city sanitation crews. The city did not offer a comment, and details of the settlement were not available.

At least one legal expert says legal cases like this one are necessary to crystallize the rights of the homeless while giving authorities a better understanding of when to enforce local ordinances, such as the one in Chicago that calls for keeping public sidewalks clear.

“Just reading the plain language of the homeless bill of rights (act), it obviously doesn’t cover (the couple’s) situation,” said Steven Schwinn, law professor at John Marshall Law School. “It doesn’t specifically say police can’t take your property off the street. To that extent, it’s somewhat open and ambiguous.”

Around a dozen paragraphs, the law sets out its general aim, which is to “lessen the adverse effects and conditions caused by the lack of residence or a home.”

Smith and Moore allege that when the city seized the tents, along with items inside including photos of Smith’s dead son, their right to privacy under the homeless act was violated. Indeed, the law states in part that the homeless have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her personal property to the same extent as personal property in a permanent residence.”

The expectation of privacy has been defined over the decades by judges largely examining whether law enforcement must have a search warrant in specific instances. For example, if a police officer is invited inside a private home, he or she cannot search a bag, or look through items without a warrant or the owner’s consent, except in a very narrow range of circumstances, said Rebecca Glenberg, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Under the state’s homeless law, that same privacy standard is extended to those living on the streets, she said. “A reasonable expectation of privacy is (when) everyone understands and agrees they are not supposed to touch your stuff,” Glenberg said. According to her reading of the law, “Just as you can’t touch someone’s property when it’s in their home without their permission or a warrant, you can’t do that to the property of a homeless person, even though, even by definition, it’s outside.”

Glenberg said that such suits are important in testing how strongly the courts will enforce new laws. “Particularly where there’s some dispute about the scope of the law. You don’t know how a court is going to interpret the law and how far the court will go to protect your rights until you actually go to the court and see what happens,” she said. “This kind of lawsuit is important in making sure the promises of the statute are actually fulfilled.”

City workers affixed warning stickers on tents on Lower Wacker Drive to warn their owners about a looming sidewalk cleaning, according to the lawsuit. Per city ordinance, stickers are to be placed on tents and other belongings before they’re removed.

Carol Aldape also cited the homeless law when she filed suit against the city last September after she and more than a dozen other homeless people were forced to move from beneath the Wilson Avenue viaduct on Lake Shore Drive to make way for construction of bike paths.

Aldape, 68, who spent five months living in the encampment with her two dogs, Bella and Chief, said the project to make the sidewalks under the viaducts thinner was created specifically to keep homeless people from setting up under the bridges and thus violates the homeless law.

Aldape, who says she suffers from diabetes and multiple sclerosis, moved there because the bridge provided relief from the elements.

“We were pushed out. There was nowhere to go,” Aldape said. The tent city was “a community of people who look after each other because we’re all in the same boat.”

Carol Aldape sits with her two dogs, Chief and Bella, and case manager Laura Thiessen at Cornerstone Community Outreach center on Jan. 18, 2018, in Chicago. She previously lived in the tent city under the Wilson Avenue viaduct on Lake Shore Drive. (Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

Schwinn, the John Marshall Law School professor, doesn’t believe the case will make it to trial but says that if it does, the couple’s complaint appears to be on secure legal footing. He said the municipal code is primarily aimed at preventing the obstruction of sidewalk and street traffic, not uprooting homeless residents on little-traveled pathways. He notes that the couple’s suit clearly outlines that their tents were set up in areas with little to no foot traffic, meaning the municipal code wouldn’t apply to them.

“Looking at the (city) ordinance itself, it looks to me like it’s designed to keep people from leaving big stuff in the middle of the sidewalk in a way that’s going to impede passage by pedestrians or impede traffic flow,” said Schwinn, who previously represented homeless clients in Washington, D.C.

He added: “Had the plaintiffs in this case been pitching their tent in the middle of Michigan Avenue, I think you have a different case.”

“City agencies work with a community of partners toward the goal of ensuring all Chicagoans have a place to call home and the City treats homeless residents with respect and works hard to connect them with important support programs and services,” the Law Department spokesman said in a statement.

The couple’s suit seeks more than $75,000 in damages and asks the court to issue an order declaring the city violated the law and barring police and other city workers from seizing, moving or otherwise tossing the couple’s personal belongings in the future.

Public News Service: 40,000 Illinois students eligible for SNAP

By Veronica Carter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Thousands of college students in Illinois became eligible to receive SNAP benefits at the first of the year, but many don’t realize it.

So now a campaign is under way to let the students know about their eligibility so they won’t drop out of school because of financial reasons.

New rules issued by the Illinois Department of Human Services allow both full and part-time students to apply for food assistance.

Niya Kelly, state legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, calls it a victory. She says the old rules were antiquated because they painted a picture of a typical college student as coming from an upper-middle-class family.

“That idea of what a college student looks like is not, in fact, reality,” she stresses. “We have a lot of students who are living in poverty, who are older students, who are returning to school to make a better way for them to be able to support their family.”

Last year, House Bill 3211 got bipartisan support and was approved in the House and Senate, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it, saying the Illinois Student Assistance Commission should not be required to notify students they are eligible for SNAP.

Despite the veto, the Illinois Department of Human Services changed the rules, and students can now apply for benefits.

Kelly says students are going to college so they can get a good job, and that helps the state’s economy.

“These programs are short programs, these are CNA programs, these are automotive programs, these are IT programs where there is a demand in those markets,” she explains. “And we just need to allow these students who just need a little bit of help getting over the hump,” she states.

Kelly says 48 percent of college students report experiencing food insecurity, and one in five say they’ve had to skip meals.

Legislation to make the SNAP rule change permanent, Senate Bill 351, is before state lawmakers this session.