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.

Chicago Reader: Are tiny houses a solution to homelessness in Chicago?

The push for a small answer to a massive problem



(Jamie Ramsay graphic)

By Deanna Isaacs

The fetish for upscale tiny houses has been around long enough for some of the novelty to wear off. In the wake of the mortgage meltdown, the micro dwellings flourished as McMansion antidotes. They made a statement about carbon footprints and financial restraint, even if equipped with hot tubs and high-end sound systems. And they tickled our fancy, their peaked roofs and window boxes evoking the whimsical playhouses of childhood. They inspired their own reality television shows, lifestyle websites, and magazines, as well as numerous listings on Airbnb ($138 a night on a lake near downstate Carbondale, for example; $195 in Schaumburg, up a tree).

They turned out to be great for one-night escapes and committed minimalists; not so good longer-term for folks with offspring, an average pile of possessions, or a susceptibility to cabin fever.

But now the mini abodes are finding a new, potentially larger niche at the opposite end of the income spectrum—as the hot topic in discussions about the homeless. Experimental tiny-house communities for the homeless have already been built in at least a half-dozen cities (Madison, Detroit, Dallas, Austin, Portland, and Seattle), and if advocates have their way, one may soon be coming to Chicago.

All it’ll take to get the residential concept here is the will to overcome the likely NIMBY response, money, and—the hardest thing to come by—changes in the zoning law. Chicago, like many cities still leery of the shacks and shantytowns that were the blighted tiny homes of the Great Depression era, stipulates a minimum size for free-standing dwellings of 500 square feet, and forbids multiple free-standing houses on a single lot. Tiny houses range from about 125 to 400 square feet; those envisioned for Chicago would typically be about 325 square feet, or roughly the size of a single-car garage. Chicago Tiny House Inc., the newest of a half-dozen organizations trying to bring the little homes here, held a fund-raiser on January 26 in Uptown. An audience of about 75 people, scattered on folding chairs and looking sparse in the ample auditorium of Wilson Abbey, heard Scott Ingerson, the group’s director of community engagement (and resident balloon sculptor), say that they’re raising money for a pilot cluster of five tiny houses for veterans—and what they need is volunteers, sponsors, and donations.

Alan Mills, executive director of the Uptown People’s Law Center, was the keynote speaker for the event, which included live music (by former Rez band front man Glenn Kaiser and an inspired set by the Jazz Robots), a silent auction, and a raffle. Mills said homelessness “is a choice we make as a society,” and “in Uptown alone, we’ve lost 1,000 affordable housing units in six years.”

According to Mills, if you count all the “double-ups” and couch surfers, there are 100,000 homeless people in Chicago. La Casa Norte, which provides housing and services to homeless youth and families, estimates 125,848 in the Chicago area. “The city’s solution is to criminalize it,” Mills says, referring to the Chicago Police Department’s use of an ordinance intended to keep businesses from storing goods on the public way to confiscate the tents and other possessions of those who are homeless. Meanwhile, “we in Chicago are spending $95 million for a police training facility,” Mills told the audience. “That would build a lot of tiny houses.”

Chicago Tiny House founder and president Brien Cron said the event raised “a little over $1,000” of the $125,000 the organization will need to build five houses for veterans. But the group will start with a prototype, of 320 square feet or less, and it won’t be doing it in Uptown. Cron says that—in spite of a recent starring role in a video in which he advocated for tiny houses to combat homelessness—46th Ward alderman James Cappleman has made it clear that Uptown, which for decades has been home to the city’s most visible homeless populations, “has no space for them.” The Chicago Tiny House Inc. cluster would be built in the Humboldt Park area, where First Ward alderman Joe Moreno says he’s working with them to find a location. Cappleman’s chief of staff, Tressa Feher, says the alderman definitely would support tiny houses for homeless people in Uptown, but he hasn’t been presented with a proposal for them.

Cron’s group launched last fall, after the cops’ removal of tent dwellers who’d been living under Lake Shore Drive bridges at Wilson and Lawrence attracted a lot of media coverage. Chicago Tiny House meets at 7 PM every Monday at 920 W. Wilson—across the street from the Abbey—in the long-standing communal home of Jesus People USA (JPUSA). “We’re a group of Christians, out of Jesus People USA, and we’re dedicated to helping our city with homelessness,” Cron told me. “Our basic need right now is public awareness of who we are and what we’re trying to do.”

Cron had no comment on a 2014 documentary film, No Place to Call Home, made by former JPUSA resident Jaime Prater, that included allegations of child sexual abuse decades ago at the commune, or on lawsuits filed against JPUSA over the same issues.

The 2015-2016 Tiny Homes Competition was won by three Chicago architects: Terry Howell, Marty Sandberg, and Lon Stousland. Their design is a 336-square-foot, brick-walled, shed-roofed home with loft, porch, and fully functioning bathroom and kitchen.

The 2015-2016 Tiny Homes Competition was won by three Chicago architects: Terry Howell, Marty Sandberg, and Lon Stousland. Their design is a 336-square-foot, brick-walled, shed-roofed home with loft, porch, and fully functioning bathroom and kitchen.

If that’s enough to give you pause, rest assured that Chicago Tiny House Inc. isn’t alone in its enthusiasm for this approach to the problem of homelessness. Besides the predictable interest of companies manufacturing some of the little structures, organizations such as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and All Chicago (a nonprofit providing emergency funds, research, training, and more to “make homelessness history”)—which estimates that close to 6,000 homeless people are on the streets of Chicago on any given night—welcome tiny houses as a part of the solution. CCH executive director Douglas Schenkelberg says the tiny houses, while not the sole solution, “can play an important role.” And All Chicago CEO Nonie Brennan says the tiny houses are especially valuable for “their ability to bring attention to the issue of homelessness.” But talking to any of the people in the field about tiny houses and homelessness leads pretty quickly to a surprising expert on the subject: Tracy Baim, editor and publisher of the Windy City Times.

Baim traces much of the current activity to a summit Windy City Times sponsored on youth homelessness in the LGBTQ community four years ago. One of the ideas that came out of the summit was that a community of tiny homes could work for homeless college students; another was the launch of a new nonprofit, Pride Action Tank, dedicated to “inquiry, advocacy, and action,” on LGBTQIA issues. In 2015, Pride Action Tank teamed up with AIA Chicago, Landon Bone Baker Architects, and the Alphawood Foundation to conduct a tiny-homes design competition that drew more than 250 entrants from around the world. The contest was won by three architects who met as students at Notre Dame and now live and practice in Chicago: Terry Howell, Marty Sandberg, and Lon Stousland.

Their winning design—a 336-square-foot, brick-walled, shed-roofed home with loft, porch, and fully functioning bathroom and kitchen—was built during a tiny-homes summit on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus in 2016, and was subsequently moved to Back of the Yards, where it was open for tours until last fall.

“Having that model was hugely part of our goal, because once people stepped inside of it, they understood what we were talking about”—separate structures, more like real homes, as opposed to warehousing, Baim said. “They have a little plot of land. They’re lower cost and quicker to build. They’re also lower cost to operate in the long term, because you’re just air-conditioning this one unit—no hallways or elevators. And you can build them on one lot or on a whole city block.”

Last fall, after Catholic Charities expressed an interest in tiny houses, 14th Ward alderman Ed Burke introduced a City Council resolution calling for consideration of them, and a joint committee hearing was held. “They approved the concept of tiny homes being added to the tool kit of responses to homelessness in Chicago,” Baim says. Her group is now working on plans for a pilot project and (with the other interested groups) facilitating the policy changes that’ll make it possible to build in Chicago.

“There are other cities where tiny homes don’t make sense—it’s a density issue,” Baim says. “But Chicago and Detroit [with plenty of vacant lots] have great opportunity in this area. The heavy lifting will be about the minimum size and the issue of multiple free-standing buildings on a single lot.”

Pride Action Tank has partnered with La Casa Norte for the pilot, which will consist of ten tiny homes for homeless college students in the West Englewood area, about a mile from Kennedy-King College. The wood frame houses of about 350 square feet are being designed by Landon Bone Baker Architects, and will be attached in pairs. The cluster will include two slightly larger ADA-accessible homes and a common house for group events. Casa Norte will operate the finished cluster.

After months of planning and meetings, Baim says the project is now in the money-raising phase and is offering naming rights for $50,000 per house. (Baim has committed to raising that amount in order to name one house after her deceased mother.) The project already has some foundation support (from the Polk Bros., Alphawood, and Pierce Family Foundations), but organizers will be looking to more foundations, individual supporters, and the city for the remaining funding. They aim to raise between $1.5 and $2 million, the projected total budget for the project.

That’s definitely not cheap, but Baim says the houses themselves will each cost about $70,000 for construction and a possible additional $20,000 if environmental mitigation is necessary. And a pilot is always more expensive than subsequent building on a larger scale. Still, she says, it’s a relative bargain. “Typical affordable housing in Chicago, believe it or not,” she says, “is about $400,000 a unit.” Chicago could address the need for more affordable housing for the working poor if major entities like CHA “got on board” with this idea, Baim says. “CHA could be building, on a for-profit basis, for people who could afford a mortgage on a $50,000 to $70,000 tiny home that’s brand-new, versus spending all the money they do on inadequate housing. They’re subsidizing slumlords out there and landlords in general, but they’re not building anything new.

The winning Tiny Homes Competition design was built during a tiny-homes summit on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus in April 2016 and was subsequently moved to the Back of the Yards, where it was open for tours until last fall.

“I believe tiny homes can solve a lot of different types of needs out there—not just youth homelessness, which we’re focused on, but also some of the working poor, and seniors and veterans who are just getting warehoused,” she adds.

“We’ve lost tens of thousands of units in this city in the last 20 to 30 years, and there’s vacant land everywhere, including lots near the Green Line. We don’t need towers, but we could build tiny homes that people could get mortgages on and own, and CHA could get their money back because most of the people out there who are struggling are people who, with help on housing, could make it. And then you could concentrate all the rest of the money on people who need the supportive services—substance abuse treatment, mental health services, medical support.

“We’re talking about a city with excellent land and transportation. The ‘housing first’ model has proven itself in most cities that have tried it. It’s lower cost to house someone than to have them on the streets, utilizing services like Streets and San, police, jails, emergency rooms, not to mention their own physical and mental stress.

“We’re not saying that anything that’s currently being done should not be done. [The tiny houses] are not for everybody, and they won’t all be the same. What we’re saying is that this should be added to the tool kit for those who it’s appropriate for.”

Finally, Baim said, she’s often asked if the tiny houses will be on wheels (as they are in some locations). Her answer to that is a firm no. “It’s not meant to be portable. It’s meant to be a smaller-footprint home. Like studio apartments, but with a plot of land.

“People should think about this as ‘Honey, I shrunk the house.’ ”

Alderman Burke’s office says he’s “waiting for someone to come to us with a solid plan and a clear ask.” Chicago deputy commissioner of planning and development Peter Strazzabosco says that “pending community input and other standard review and approval processes,” the city “is encouraging financially viable [tiny house] proposals and think[s] they can have a positive role within the city’s housing market.” The zoning changes that will make them possible for homeless Chicagoans will likely also open the door for anyone who still wants to live the upscale downsized fantasy.   v

Chicago Tribune: Saving lives, saving money: Hospitals set up homeless patients with permanent housing

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

When Latesha Holman was homeless, she was a regular in Chicago’s emergency rooms. Sometimes she’d go four times in a single week, battling asthma and a raft of other health problems, though often she just sought refuge from the cold.

Not anymore. Holman, 45, has spent this nasty winter tucked in her cozy basement apartment, kept warm by a space heater, her morning mug of coffee and the joy of babysitting her infant granddaughter.

Her symptoms have improved. Her depression has eased. Her hospital visits — and the high costs they incur — have plunged.

“Since I’ve been here I have never felt this good, really,” Holman said as she sat in her tidy living room, still adorned with a white plastic Christmas tree she bought for the holidays.

Holman owes the roof over her head to University of Illinois Hospital, among a handful of local hospitals starting to invest in permanent housing for chronically homeless patients in order to improve their health and reduce their costly emergency room visits.

Link to video interview of Latesha Holman

The idea is that providing the homeless with stable housing in the long run costs less than leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets, where they are more vulnerable to illness, violence and desperation that ultimately drive up health care costs. U. of I. Hospital, in partnership with the nonprofit Center for Housing and Health, is leading an effort locally to get health care providers to put money toward getting the homeless housed.

“The solution is cheaper than the problem,” said Stephen Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine at the hospital and of its Better Health Through Housing initiative.

U. of I. Hospital, in the Illinois Medical District on the Near West Side, this week announced it will extend a pilot program it launched in 2015, committing an additional $250,000 to place 25 more chronically homeless patients into permanent homes. 

While the housing itself, in scattered sites throughout the city and suburbs, is funded by grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the hospital pays $1,000 per month for each patient in the program to cover supportive services, including a case manager who helps participants get on their feet. That’s far less than the $3,000-per-day bill some chronically homeless patients ring up in the ER, the hospital said.

Results from the pilot suggest it is worth the investment. The average monthly health care cost per client in the pilot dropped 18 percent after they were provided with permanent housing, to $4,785 from $5,879, the hospital said.

The individual effort won’t help the hospital’s bottom line, Brown said. But he calculates that if every hospital in the area agrees to help house 10 chronically homeless patients, it could make a major dent in homelessness in the city and save money systemwide.

Cost reduction is not the only motivation for the investment. The core driver is health equity, Brown said, and the recognition that homelessness itself is a dangerous health condition that hospitals should help alleviate.

“If someone came in with cancer, we would do extraordinary things to keep them alive,” Brown said. “The irony is that if someone with a dangerous condition like homelessness comes in, we dismiss them.”

Homeless people are at high risk of pulmonary disease, traumatic brain injury, HIV/AIDS and head and neck cancers, possibly because of higher rates of smoking and alcohol use. Their expected lifespans are 25 years shorter than average, according to some studies.

Most of the major hospital systems in the area, including Northwestern Memorial and University of Chicago Medicine, are at the table on the homeless housing issue, Brown said, and a handful have programs underway.

Swedish Covenant Hospital, in the Ravenswood neighborhood, recently agreed to invest $75,000 to provide 10 chronically homeless patients with permanent housing and support services for a year.

Rush University Medical Center, in the Illinois Medical District, plans to launch a pilot program this spring to provide housing and support services for up to five chronically homeless patients.

Both programs are modeled after the one at U. of I. Hospital and partner with the Center for Housing and Health, a subsidiary of the AIDS Foundation, to identify available apartments via 28 supportive housing providers with HUD grants. Presence Health plans to launch a similar pilot this year.

Separately, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System in August partnered with the nonprofit Housing Forward to connect homeless patients with 33 permanent supportive housing units in west and south suburban Cook County. The system has committed to spending $400,000 for the first 12 months.

“You have to spend money to ultimately save money, or better use the resources you have,” said Mary Sajdak, senior director of integrated care at the county health system. Some homeless patients eager to get out of the cold have gotten good at describing a set of symptoms that they know will land them in a bed for a few days, she said.

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, said tapping local and private funding sources for housing the homeless is critical given uncertain federal funding.

“There is really great evidence that if you get people into permanent housing and they have intensive support services, that can resolve homelessness for them permanently,” she said.

There were about 5,657 homeless people living on Chicago’s streets or in shelters on a given night last year, according to a city count, down 4 percent from 2016. But most homeless people stay with friends or family, and if you count them the city’s homeless population is upward of 82,200, said Dworkin, whose estimate is based on Census data.

One lesson U. of I. Hospital learned from its pilot is that it sees far more homeless patients than it realized. It initially identified 48 homeless patients in the emergency room, based on staff observations, but as it scrutinized admissions data it found many more people list homeless shelters or hospitals as their home addresses, Brown said.

The hospital now has 616 people in its system who are likely homeless and estimates it has seen more than 3,000 homeless patients since 2010. It reviewed the hospital usage of a sample of homeless patients and found 32 percent were in the highest cost classification, which means their care cost seven to 70 times more than the typical patient.

While many are sick, and their health problems are exacerbated by homelessness, those just seeking warmth are getting the priciest bed in town. It costs about $1,500 a night for a bed in the emergency room, Brown said.

“If we got them a place in the Four Seasons, it would be cheaper,” he said.

While most of the patients invited to participate in the housing program are “superutilizers” — meaning they visit the emergency room more than eight times are year — that’s not the only criteria. A team that includes staff from the ER, social work, psychiatry, oncology and other departments convenes to discuss which patients’ health would be most helped by having housing, such as those with multiple diseases that require frequent outpatient visits.

All participants must meet HUD’s definition of being chronically homeless, which means they have been homeless for at least a year or on four separate occasions over the last three years.

Picking the right people to thrive is a challenge. Of the 26 participants in U. of I. Hospital’s initial pilot, just 11 remain in their housing units. Four people died, one entered hospice, two could not live independently and eight left the program for various reasons.

Going forward, it may be better recruit patients who aren’t so severely ill, so that they can continue to improve, and put the sicker people in more appropriate environments like skilled nursing homes, said Peter Toepfer, executive director of the Center for Housing and Health.

The transition to housing isn’t easy. Holman, who moved into her cozy basement apartment in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood a year ago, said it was difficult to live by herself after being on the street, off and on, for 15 years, often sleeping in abandoned houses or in shelters surrounded by other homeless people. She didn’t know how to go food shopping or stay on top of her medications or many doctors’ appointments: liver, heart, dentist, foot, psychiatrist. Alone in her apartment, she felt afraid.

She credits her improvement to the help of her case manager and her children, with whom she has reconnected since moving into her new home. Now, she said, it’s “a piece of cake,” though she still feels lonely.

Larry Haynes, Holman’s case manager, said Holman was nervous at first about the program, and a key challenge was building trust and rapport to help her understand the importance of seeing doctors for preventive care. While some participants may be steered toward job training or education to become more independent, the priority for Holman is to stabilize her health, said Haynes, housing case manager at Christian Community Health Center, which subleases the apartment to Holman. He has been encouraging her to join a local church to make friends.

Holman said she feels better since gaining a stable home and regular medical care. She has an asthma pump for the first time. Her biggest goal for 2018 is to stop smoking.

The mother of four also has been able to sit down with her children — aged 17 through 26 — and clarify misconceptions they had about her life. Earlier this month, she cooked up a feast in her spacious kitchen to surprise her youngest daughter on her birthday, an emotional moment for all.

Her daughter later told her, “Mom, I want to be like you when I grow up, have my own place,” Holman recalled. She’d never heard that before.

WBEZ: Homeless couple sues city, claims targeted harassment

Editor’s Note: The CCH Law Project is co-counseling this case with the law firm of Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.

A homeless couple is suing the city of Chicago and some of its employees over what they claim is repeated harassment over the last three years.

WBEZ’s Odette Yousef reports.

Amie Smith and Shawn Moore claim that city workers threw away at least eight tents they’ve lived in. WBEZ reported on one of those incidents late last year.

Diane O’Connell, their attorney from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says that’s not even the half of it.

“By destroying their property, forcing them to move repeated times, and by other conduct, the city of Chicago has violated their right to equal treatment, their right to privacy in their possessions, and their right to use public space.”
O’Connell says they have those rights under the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act. The city’s law department did not immediately respond.

Listen to the radio report

WMAQ Channel 5: Chicago official calls displacement of homeless during frigid temperatures ‘unfortunate’

By Mary Ann Ahern

WATCH the Channel 5 report here

The city of Chicago admitted Thursday cleaning out a viaduct in freezing temperatures, where the homeless had taken shelter, was a mistake.

The city threw out all of their belongings and now says the incident was “unfortunate.”

Ryan from Woodridge, just 10 years old, had brought backpacks to the homeless at the viaduct at Belmont and Kedzie–many of those gifts thrown out as garbage.

NBC 5 went back to that viaduct Thursday and spoke to a woman who has lived on the streets for more than a year.

Blanca is back at Belmont and Kedzie, where she lives under this viaduct when she’s not riding the “El” train to stay warm.

She lost all of her belongings when the city cleaned this viaduct Wednesday — even the backpacks donated by young Ryan.

“And my blanket, all my Christmas stuff… they took everything,” she said.

Chicago’s Coalition for the Homeless and Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa are critical of the city’s cleanup–when the temperatures are hovering near zero.

“I’m very upset that this is the way the city went about this, they didn’t provide my office with notification, and they didn’t go about this the right way, I think that it was a mistake,” Rosa said.

Doug Schenkelberg, executive director of the CCH, says the homeless just want housing.

“How do we provide real resources and support to people who are homeless and have to live in this situation?” he asked.

Another question posited is whether the city will continue with the viaduct cleanups or wait until it’s not quite so frigid.

“What happened yesterday was unfortunate,” Alisa Rodriguez, of the city’s Homeless Services. “We definitely want to make sure that it does not happen again like that.”

Rodriguez, who is the city’s point person for the homeless, notes while the clean up was clearly posted — when the weather turned as cold as it did adjustments should have been made.

“When it’s single digits the utmost important things to remember is the safety of these individuals and to make sure cleaning becomes secondary,” she said.

Blanca is grateful for coats left for the homeless Thursday, trying on several before she heads off to ride the “El” during the coldest hours of the evening.

The city says it will work with all of its partners in communicating how to better balance the issues of cleaning up the viaducts at the same time being aware of how cold it is outside.

Chicago Reader: Mistreatment of the homeless

Chicago police commonly confiscate and throw away the tents of the homeless

CPD’s policy seems more concerned with optics than with law and order.



From Chicago Reader’s “Worst of Chicago 2017” edition

It’s important for me as a progressive stereotype to listen to public radio while driving and to get outraged at the news. If my hackles are especially raised, I will even tweet about it. (Like I said, progressive stereotype.) This is what transpired in October after I heard a report from WBEZ’s Odette Yousef about the common Chicago policing practice of confiscating and throwing away the tents of the homeless. According to Yousef’s story, one explanation the Chicago Police Department gives to defend the practice is a law that says it’s illegal to block a public thoroughfare. CPD cites a provision of the city’s municipal code: “No person shall use any public way for the storage of personal property, goods, wares or merchandise of any kind. Nor shall any person place or cause to be placed in or upon any public way, any barrel, box, hogshead, crate, package or other obstruction of any kind, or permit the same to remain thereon longer than is necessary to convey such article to or from the premises abutting on such sidewalk.”

OK, let’s say I park my car on a sidewalk. A cop would write me a ticket and tell me to move along, but I think we’d all be shocked if he told me to get out of the car, proceeded to smash my vehicle into a cube in front of me, and then wouldn’t even let me keep the cube. (Would he throw my hogshead of mead into the trash too?)

Regardless of the laws human beings who are homeless may or may not be breaking by setting up a tent in public, the CPD seems more concerned with optics than with law and order. The logic of the policy to a progressive stereotype such as myself seems to be: homeless people should not be publicly visible and they will be intimidated and destabilized until they’re made invisible. Never mind that there isn’t room enough in all of Chicago’s shelters to accommodate the thousands who are homeless. Even if there was, shelters are often not stable, safe places to stay.

What would help create more stability for these folks? I can think of a dozen things off the top of my head, many of which are a part of the ongoing work of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, none of which are stealing and destroying the property, shelter, privacy, and peace of our fellow Chicagoans most in need.