Crain’s Chicago Business, Letter to the Editor: What city do we want to be?

By Doug Schenkelberg, CCH Executive Director

As was well-publicized over the past few weeks, the city of Chicago evicted a community of people experiencing homelessness under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on the North Side to make way for a construction project.

When the city set a date to evict the residents, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people in the encampments. Does CCH believe that crumbling bridges should not be rebuilt or that bike lanes are a bad idea or that people should be living on the street? No. We believe everyone has the right to housing, and that it is our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone can access that right.

Our motion to halt the eviction and delay the construction was denied by the judge, and the city evicted the people and disbanded the community. So rather than the city putting resources into transitioning people into permanent housing, resources were put into a line of police standing behind a row of tents, ready to pull them down from their new spot because the city is clearly determined to keep homelessness from being visible in Uptown.

In light of this situation and the fact that there are over 82,000 people in Chicago that experience homelessness in some form in a year, I ask the question—what city do we want to be?

Are we a city that wants to pour resources and effort into hiding homelessness, designing our public spaces to keep people without access to permanent housing from being in the public eye? Do we want to shrug our shoulders at the size of the problem and say it’s just too much?

Or do we want to be a city that makes ending homelessness a priority, one that believes our community is stronger when we provide real housing and support to those who need it?

This is our city and this is our choice. We can and should dedicate the scale of funding needed to end homelessness. This vision is not to say the city has done nothing to address homelessness, but rather to acknowledge it is not enough.

What happened at the viaducts will happen again. There are other tent encampments, other city projects on the drawing board. This situation is not an anomaly. So, I ask again, what kind of city do we want to be?

Chicago Tribune: Over dinner, Chicago residents connect with homeless

At a trendy restaurant in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, diners sat at a table near the front window and chatted casually over drinks.

To someone looking in from the busy stretch of Broadway, the dinner party looked like any other group of friends grabbing a bite after work.

But these unlikely dinner companions — a homeless man, a woman getting by with the support of a LINK card and a housing subsidy, and working professionals from Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast and the West Loop neighborhoods — were trying to do something they say doesn’t happen enough.

The group is part of a new initiative called Dinners for Humanity, which pairs Chicago residents with homeless and other people down on their luck for a sit-down dinner at a restaurant.

With almost no overhead costs and a simple strategy — setting up the monthly dinners, where volunteers agree to spend about $30 on dinner for themselves and their guest — the nonprofit that started through a social media post aims to address the Chicago area’s ongoing homeless problem in a small but meaningful way.

“We live in a world that’s so incredibly divided for no good reason,” said Alex Ripley, 40, who volunteered recently as part of the group’s second gathering. “It’s just an opportunity to reconnect.”

The dinner came one week before construction began on a project that displaced dozens of homeless residents living in tents just a few blocks away under the Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Advocates for the homeless had tried to block the city from starting construction, arguing that the city’s plans for bike paths and sidewalks intentionally kept the homeless from returning. But a judge ruled that the city could move forward with the project.

Given the emotional debate that has gone on for weeks, advocates for the homeless say Dinners for Humanity could offer a way to help Chicago residents to get to know their community — including some of the 82,000 people living in shelters, doubled-up with other families or on the streets.

“There are different ways to help people better understand what people living in extreme poverty and with low income and no options,” said Anne Bowhay, director of foundation relations and media for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “One-on-one experiences have a real impact.”

Dinners for Humanity was developed by a young professional named Mehdi Lazrak, who moved to Chicago last year. A Morroccan immigrant who came to the U.S. to get a degree at Yale University, Lazrak said he was surprised to see the way people in America seemed to look down on the homeless population and walk by people living on the streets without concern.

While working his first job out of college in Seattle, Lazrak offered to take a homeless man he saw each day at a bus stop out to dinner. He was surprised by the way the gesture gave him a deeper understanding of the man’s challenges, he said.

“It really changed my perspective,” said Lazrak, 26. “I always felt compassion for homeless people, but I just had no idea about circumstances about what lead them to be homeless.”

When Lazrak was transferred by his company, Expedia, to Chicago in 2016, he decided to start a community project that made more of those dinners possible. He put a message on Facebook and Meetup.com to gauge interest and was grateful when volunteers eagerly came forward.

After several months of planning, the most enthusiastic and involved volunteers became the nonprofit’s board members. To keep costs low and make easy connections, they partnered with a well-established group, Inspiration Corporation, a nonprofit that already was offering meals, job training and other services in Uptown.

Volunteers knowingly accept that some of the dinner guests may have criminal histories or mental illness, but the organizers have made it their mission not to discriminate unless there is a real safety risk.

“It’s a simple activity that brings people together,” said Xochitl Guerrero, a Dinners for Humanity board member who spends her days working with mentally ill inmates in Cook County. “You get reacquainted with humanity.”

The volunteers and dinner guest meet briefly at the Inspiration Corporation’s North Broadway office before being dispatched into small groups who walk to nearby restaurants, which are not alerted ahead of time. The planning of the events is the biggest challenge, since many dinner guests are hard to reach and drop out at the last minute.

But once they’re on the way to the restaurants, the conversations are unscripted and uncensored, Lazrak said.

At this month’s dinner, eight dinner guests joined nine volunteers at four restaurants around Uptown.

Over potstickers, spring rolls and chicken satay at Dib Sushi Bar, Renee Martin, 31, told her dinner companions that while she is glad to no longer be homeless, the cost of living in Chicago makes it sometimes feel impossible for her to imagine a day when her paychecks will be enough to cover rent, food and other expenses. In addition to her LINK card and a rent subsidy, she donates plasma regularly to make ends meet, she said.

“I’ve really been fighting for my independence,” Martin said. “You’ve got to be responsible, even when it’s hard.”

Emily Holland, 30, a freelance writer living in the Gold Coast, said she was nervous when she stepped off the train for the volunteer opportunity, but headed home feeling inspired and fulfilled.

“I ended up feeling more comfortable at that table and more connected with people than I have in other social settings,” Holland said. “I was pleasantly surprised with how much we had to talk about.”

Lazrak and other organizers hope that as the nonprofit continues, it will grow its volunteer base and encourage ongoing relationships between the dinner participants. Organizers believe that the small interactions have the potential to grow into community-wide conversations that humanize the homeless and raise the public’s awareness about how to help.

Until then, they’re just glad to be introducing people and filling stomachs.

While digging into a steak dinner with dill rice and charbroiled vegetables at Caravan, Sidney Wright described how even though he works regularly selling concessions at White Sox games and other odd jobs, he can’t afford a security deposit and regular rent for an apartment and bounces between shelters.

As he finished the last sips of his Coke, he thanked his dinner dates for a great evening.

“I fell but I didn’t fall out,” said Wright, acknowledging past struggles.

“I’m down, but I’m not out,” he told his dinner companions. “It’s good to be treated well.”

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Uptown’s homeless fold their tents, city covers its eyes

Police line Wilson Avenue where homeless people briefly set up their tents Monday after the city demanded they leave two Lake Shore Drive viaducts. |Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, Columnist

As Chicago police moved in Monday with crews of city workers to forcibly remove, if necessary, the homeless people from their Uptown tents, activists struck up a chant of “The whole world is watching.”

If only that were true.

Mostly the world looks away from the homeless, except when it can’t avoid their presence, as in the case of the Tent City camps that are no more.

In the end, no force was necessary to complete the camps’ eviction. No blows were struck. No arrests made.

Just the threat of force was enough to convince the remaining 20-25 homeless people to literally fold their tents.

Still, it was touch and go for a while until Pastor Carey Gidron, a friend of the homeless, convinced them they would be better off to voluntarily give up, preserve their belongings and avoid a threatened trip to jail.

So one-by-one they complied until all the tents were down.

Yet afterward, the question had to be asked: What exactly was accomplished this day, beyond clearing the path for a Lake Shore Drive construction project?

“Nothing. Not a thing,” said Peter Rasmussen, a lean 58-year-old homeless man as we sat in the sun in a small park alongside Wilson Avenue where the recent residents of two Lake Shore Drive viaducts had tried to restage their camps on the city right-of-way.

Police declared the new location too dangerous, and beyond that, said the homeless people didn’t have a permit.

“But where can we go?” said the homeless and their supporters. And for that there was no good answer.

When I left them late in the afternoon, one homeless man was passed out drunk on a park bench, another in the grass by the sidewalk. Nearby, a couple had moved deeper into the park to sort their belongings, their plan uncertain.

And, oh yes, some people were putting up the tents again, this time on the city right-of-way on the west side of Marine Drive south of Wilson.

Rasmussen and others had discussed such a possibility earlier.

I told him the city would chase them off from there, too.

“Are they just going to move us around like cattle?” he asked, to which the honest answer was “yes,” although I don’t think I said anything.

We agreed his best approach would probably be to slip off into the park at night by himself or in a small group, making sure to pack up by morning, which was what the homeless used to do before the tent encampments.

The camps were a safer alternative for the homeless, but neighbors felt more threatened by seeing them congregated in one place.

It is not illegal to be homeless in America, but the proof of that was not evident in Uptown on Monday.

It’s probably more correct to say that it is legal to be homeless as long as you don’t stop long enough in any one place that somebody notices you.

Some will hail Monday’s removal of the homeless as progress. I will chalk it up as another chapter in moving the homeless out of the way without really solving the problem.

That’s not to say it was a total loss.

In the lead-up to Monday’s eviction, some individuals received help getting into housing who probably wouldn’t have without all the fuss.

One of them, Mark Saulys, had received keys to an apartment three days earlier and was already feeling the benefits.

“You know what I feel like? I feel like my mother is still alive,” he told me.

Then on Monday, four more took the city’s offer to come off the street and accept beds in a nearby homeless shelter, including Carol Adalpe, the 68-year-old woman with the two dogs I have written about previously.

She refused to budge until promised she could bring the dogs with her.

As I left, Adalpe was riding off into the sunset on her motorized scooter, her friends trailing along with the dogs.

That does not make this a happy ending.

Windy City Times: City clears out Uptown tent residents

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By Matt Simonette

In a chaotic early morning scene Sept. 18, city authorities evicted persons who had been residing beneath Lake Shore Drive viaducts at Wilson and Lawrence avenues on the North Lakefront.Residents and advocates had expected the eviction; city officials had announced the deadline a month earlier, but, according to residents, they had not been forthcoming with any new housing options. Many LGBT activists have been working on this issue for several months.

Residents had earlier moved their tents out from under the viaducts, taking them to the parkways a block west. City workers erected fences blocking off areas beneath the bridge. At 8:30 a.m., members of the Chicago Department of Family & Support Services arrived and began talking to residents, telling them that they had to take their tents down.

In a statement to reporters, Rev. Fred Kinsey of Unity Lutheran Church said that concerned activists and residents “take this seriously. People are being pushed out of their homes. … We know this struggle is going to continue in the weeks to come.”

“The city’s solution is to put people out of sight and out of mind,” added Ryne Poelker of Tent City Organizers, who called the situation “a true representation of the failures of Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel and Alderman [James] Cappleman.”

Most Tent City residents were unsure of where to go next. Resident Tom Gordon said he had just moved his tent to Lawrence Avenue and Marine Drive. Officials there had refused to let the residents actually erect the tents.

“They told us they’ve got to lay flat—we can’t set them up,” Gordon said. “… They didn’t want it to look like we were moving in, but we are moving in. We’ve got no place else to go. They took the bridge from us, because they need to repair it. This is the only safe place we can go.”

Mark Saulys was one of a handful of residents who had been transferred into a subsidized apartment through a pilot program the city launched last year. He lamented that only a small number of residents had been helped.

“Twenty years ago, I was homeless,” said Saulys. “I was always a poor laborer. But I got a job and I rented a room at an SRO. Nobody helped me at all. But that job is gone and that SRO is gone. It’s a different world today. A lot of people need some help.”

Another resident, Sean, is an openly gay man who has lived under the viaducts for a few months. He was priced out of where he had been living in Lakeview, and was experiencing homelessness even as he was working. He said that he was on his way to look at an apartment that morning.

“There is money for the things that we need that would be more of a comfort,” Sean said. “… Quit harassing us. Quit using tax dollars for your little cronies to drive through the viaduct and honk their horns and clang their loud machines at three or four o’clock in the morning. As a working person, those are my dollars that are going to that.”

Adam Gianforte, who has been living under the Lawrence Avenue viaduct for five months, said, “Sometimes we think of the city as an ‘entity,’ but these are the people who make up the city. These are our neighbors. When you have a friend who is homeless, it’s hard to ignore them, because they are your friend. … These people are the city.”

The press conference was called by homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and ONE Northside.

Late in the morning residents were in Courtroom 2508 of the Daley Center regarding their complaint against the city of Chicago, pursuant to the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act, trying to stop the city’s evictions.


Chicago Tribune: City ousts relocated tent city; advocates withdraw bid to stop Uptown viaduct construction

With the start of construction to begin this week, dozens of homeless people living in tents under crumbling viaducts in the Uptown neighborhood are displaced to other locations. The city’s resolution is to move the homeless people living under the viaducts to Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter on the Near West Side. (Alyssa Pointer/Chicago Tribune) – LINK to Tribune photo gallery

By Mary Wisniewski and Marissa Page

The city of Chicago cleared out what was left of the former homeless encampments under Lake Shore Drive in Uptown on Monday morning and required residents to leave a nearby parkway, while advocates abandoned their attempts in court to block the city from starting construction on the crumbling structures.

Representatives from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless withdrew a request for a temporary restraining order they hoped would delay work on the Wilson and Lawrence avenue bridges, a six-month construction project that required more than two dozen homeless people living under the bridges to move elsewhere. The bridges were built in 1933 and are among the most traveled structurally deficient structures in the city, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, a Washington-based trade group.

The coalition sought permanent housing options for the tent city residents, and say that the city’s plans for bike paths on the sidewalks at Lawrence and Wilson are intended to block the homeless from returning.

“We believe they are intentionally discriminatory,” coalition attorney Patricia Nix-Hodes told reporters after the hearing, referring to the construction plans.

Construction could begin as soon as Tuesday, according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokeswoman Susan Hofer, and is scheduled to continue until March 31.

The tent city residents had relocated their tents to a grassy parkway just west of the bridges Sunday. Streets and Sanitation workers tossed blankets, food, mattresses and a tent left under the Lawrence bridge into blue garbage trucks early Monday.

Later in the morning, police began ordering the former tent city residents to leave the new spot they picked along the public way bordering Wilson and Marine Drive.

Chicago police Cmdr. Marc Buslik said CDOT workers would seize tents and belongings from those who did not comply with the order to move, and that remaining residents would receive citations. However, Hofer said CDOT would not have confiscated tents and belongings.

“Our role is enforcing the freedom of the public way, and by filing complaints with the Police Department we did that,” Hofer said. She said the tents were so close to the street that if someone had tripped and fallen out of a tent, he or she could have been run over. “We wanted them to be safe.”

About 10:45 a.m., officers stationed themselves behind the encampment along Wilson as some residents began packing their possessions. City workers began removing tents and belongings just before 11:15 as supporters chanted, “Stop harassing the homeless.”

Deputy Chief Al Nagode said the residents’ personal effects were being taken to the North Area Community Service Center at 845 W. Wilson, which is operated by the city’s Family and Support Services Department.

Nagode said residents had to leave because their tents were in a permitted area for construction.

By noon Monday, most of the tents on the parkway had been dismantled and the enforcement left people scrambling to find alternatives. One man asked officers for some additional time to vacate the area, as he tried to secure a different housing arrangement. Several residents said they had not determined where they would head next.

City officials said they have been working with the homeless and trying to find them alternative housing. But many of the people interviewed say they don’t want the shelter offered.

Maggie Gruzlewski, 49, who has depression as well as multiple physical problems, said her pocket has been picked at a shelter and she doesn’t want to stay there.

“I have a hard time sleeping there,” she said. “It’s noisy. There are bedbugs.”

She said she’s on a waiting list for housing and has been homeless for six months.

A former resident at the Lawrence bridge, Senad Filan, 45, was in tears. He thought he would get a key to an apartment Monday from an advocacy group. But it didn’t come, and now he was not sure what would happen. He said he had been homeless for five years.

“You try to be calm and be patient,” said Filan, wiping his eyes as he stood by his collapsed tent, decorated with a Blackhawks scarf. “Some friends are going to help me.”

Andrew Worseck, an attorney for the city, told Cook County Circuit Judge Celia Gamrath in court on Monday that the city had also arranged for shelter beds in Uptown, and that more shelter options are being added daily. City officials had proposed moving the tent city residents to the Pacific Garden Mission in the South Loop, about 8 miles away.

But attorneys for the coalition countered that the shelter beds in Uptown were for men only, and that the Pacific Garden Mission did not have facilities for the mentally ill. Many tent city residents said they rejected an offer from the city to go to the South Loop facility for similar reasons, and also because it requires participation in religious services.

Yehuda Rothschild, one of the founders of Uptown Tent City Organizers, said residents and advocates were hoping that a permanent housing option from the city would materialize by Monday. Hope was a “long shot,” but residents had few other options, he said.

“These are people at the end of their rope,” Rothschild said. “They can’t help themselves or they would.”

Julian Andrews, 37, said he began living under the Lawrence viaduct after losing his previous housing. He said he scraped together enough money to stay in a hotel Sunday night and returned to the neighborhood to collect his possessions from the bridge.

By the time he arrived Monday morning, city crews had cleared the area, and his things were gone. He said did not know whether his belongings had been thrown away or moved someplace else.

“I’m lost, man. I’m lost more than I already was,” Andrews said through tears.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless relocate their tents and wait for city’s next move

Louis “Abdul” Jones and other homeless occupants of two tent encampments moved their belongings to a nearby parkway Sunday in hopes of avoiding a forced city eviction. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, Columnist

Occupants of two homeless encampments under Lake Shore Drive relocated their tents Sunday afternoon in hopes of outmaneuvering the city’s plans to evict them.

About 20 of the tents that have been located beneath the viaducts were moved just west to a thin strip of parkway between the sidewalk and Wilson Avenue.

Advocates for the homeless argued they should be allowed to legally occupy that piece of public property, just as they did two years ago during an overnight protest that became the genesis of the Tent City communities.

“If we can’t live there, we’ll live here,” said Louis “Abdul” Jones, a leader of the homeless group that has occupied the viaducts.

City officials are bound to have other ideas given the perilous proximity to the roadway. Whether the new location would survive even until dawn was anybody’s guess.

Both a state and federal judge have refused to block the city’s order to vacate the viaducts by 7 a.m. Monday to allow for construction work to begin to repair the crumbling structures.

Although many of the homeless people, including Jones, have secured housing in recent days with the city’s help, an estimated 25 individuals faced Monday’s deadline with no place to go other than the city’s offer to take them to Pacific Garden Mission, which is not a popular place with most homeless people I have met.

Among those still without a plan was Carol Aldape, the 68-year-old grandmother I told you about a few weeks ago.

Aldape, who has been living out here in a tent since losing an apartment on Marine Drive in May, joined her neighbors in moving down the street.

Aldape’s particular complication is finding a place to live that will accept both her and her two dogs, Bella and Chief.

She was using her newly repaired motorized scooter to give the dogs a “walk” when I interrupted Sunday.

Aldape said the city has offered to put her in an assisted living facility, but she was not satisfied with the arrangement for her pets.

“They want me to give up the dogs, and I’m not going to do it,” she told me firmly.

But Aldape knows she can’t hold out much longer.

“I have to get in somewhere before the winter. I can’t take the cold,” she said.

Some of those still left under the viaducts already have a promise of housing but were waiting for the last minute to move.

“I like it out here,” said Steve Arthurs, who admitted he had been procrastinating. “I couldn’t push it off any longer. It’s time.”

Why does he prefer the street?

“I get fed better. I like the freedom. I feel very confined by an apartment, the rules,” he said.

Sitting outside Arthurs’ tent beneath the Lawrence viaduct was his friend Donald King, who was one of the first to obtain an apartment through the city’s pilot project for the viaduct homeless.

But even after a year, he returns regularly to the viaducts to visit.

“There’s a certain survival bond that’s formed,” Arthurs suggested.

While we talked, many residents of the nearby Uptown neighborhood walked intentionally in the street on their way to and from the Lakefront to avoid the homeless people on the sidewalk.

But as one young athletic couple came past on the sidewalk, Arthurs called out to them: “Looking good, guys. Looking good.”

They waved.

“They’re training for the marathon,” Arthurs explained.

As afternoon turned to evening with a threat of rain and possible police action, the strain began to show as tempers flared in the close confinement of the new setup.

“A lot of people are going to get left behind. Right now, I know everybody is feeling it,” Jones said.

“This is our last ditch effort,” he said.

By morning, the homeless people may be gone from under the viaducts. Just keep in mind: that doesn’t mean they’re gone.

Chicago Tribune: Uptown tent city homeless move west of viaduct as city plans renovations

Moving tent cityMark Saulys gets ready to move to a new apartment in Rogers Park on Sept. 17, 2017. Homeless people who have been living under the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue viaducts have a deadline to move by midnight. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune) 

NPR, Illinois Issues: No money for shoes

Kellia Phillips is pictured with four of her children: Journee, 7 months, Jaleece, 15, Janae, 13, and Johnnie, 6.Kellia Phillips is pictured with four of her children: Journee, 7 months, Jaleece, 15, Janae, 13, and Johnnie, 6.  (Photo by Keith Freeman/Chicago Coalition for the Homeless)

By MAUREEN FOERTSCH MCKINNEY 

Illinois’ child poverty rate is just as high as it was in 2010. Is the state doing enough to bring it down?

Kellia Phillips’ teen-aged daughters Jaleece and Janae run track. They have had to do so in ill-fitting shoes sometimes as old as three years.

Janae, 13, loves to knit and crochet. Her mother, says, “I could only get her yarn like every three months and she was so much into knitting and crocheting. I still can’t do that for her right now because I have no income.’’

Janae and her siblings would like bikes and a television, but that’s not in the picture any time soon.

“It’s very difficult right now, and I’m trying to pull it together so they can have the stuff they require and actually need,’’ says Phillips, who spent 4.5 years in shelters in Chicago with her children and now lives in Bronzeville on the city’s south side.

Phillips’ family, which includes six children between the ages of 7 months and 18, is a living example of the child poverty problem in Illinois.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation annually compiles a national report with statistics on child well-being. In terms of economic well-being — defined as areas where factors such as the child-poverty rate and children whose families lack secure employment were measured —Illinois ranked 25th.

Anna Rowan, Kids Count project manager for Voices for Illinois Children, says, “Areas where we do well: We have a low rate of uninsured and a high percentage of children in early childhood programs. Where we don’t do so well are the indicators of economic well-being, specifically in our high poverty rate. We have 19 percent of our kids in the whole state who are living in poverty. That’s over half a million of our state’s kids. We need to focus on getting them and their families out of poverty.

“And the alarming thing is that this number hasn’t really changed since 2010, which was the height of the great recession, and our data only go up to 2015, so it’s important to know that we haven’t seen any possible impact of the state’s budget crisis on our numbers.”

What organizations working to assist the poor know is the mission has been harder in the face of a budget crisis. Though a Fiscal Year 2018 budget was approved in July, agencies are still waiting for money. As of Tuesday, there was a bill backlog of $14.5 billion, and $6.1 billion of those bills had yet to be sent to the comptroller’s office. A recent report by the Chicago Foundation for Women detailed some of the consequences of the impasse on organizations that help women and children.

“When this continued for a second year, were started to see a falloff in the number of women and children being served,’’ says K. Sujata, who is president and CEO of the foundation. “When we started talking to the organizations, we started hearing about layoffs and waiting lists and burnout. Certainly, in terms of our own anecdotal sense …we are seeing that people are not receiving services.’’

Mitch Lifson, senior policy analyst for Voices and a contributor to the report, says, “When you look at the demographics of those who are in poverty and what happened as a result of this budget impasse with the curtailment of cutback of services, it had a disproportional impact on women and children of color, and that, of course, makes the circumstances that they’re in more difficult for just getting by on a daily basis.”

But Meghan Power, director of communications for the Illinois Department of Human Services, counters, “Throughout the budget impasse, IDHS worked hard to maintain many programs that served Illinois’ children and families, including the Early Intervention program, the Women, Infants, and Children food assistance program, Family Case Management services, and our Child Care Assistance Program. … IDHS is continuously evaluating our programs in order to create systems that are effective and also sustainable in these hard times.

And Jason Schaumburg, director of agency communications for Gov. Bruce Rauner, wrote in an email:

“Since taking office, the Governor has worked on many initiates to address the needs of children and their families who are living in under-resourced communities.”

Among the initiatives directly related to poverty cited by the Rauner administration:

“Last year, the governor signed into law a bill that expanded the school breakfast program to an additional 175,000 children. Senate Bill 2393 made breakfast an official part of the school day for low-income schools in Illinois. It guarantees that every student has access to the healthy food they need to learn.”

Like hunger, there are real consequences for the children who are in need of services to help mitigate the effects of poverty.

Children living in poverty face greater chances of suffering from malnutrition, exposure to violence and other trauma and see limited educational opportunities as compared to kids who don’t have to deal with being poor, says Katie Buitrago, who is director of research at Heartland Alliance’s Social IMPACT Research Center. The alliance is an organization with initiatives that include anti-poverty programs.

Cristina Pacione-Zayas is director of policy at the Erikson Institute, a Chicago graduate school that focuses on child development and provides services to families.

“One area where poverty absolutely has an impact on how a child gets the resources and services they need that can either enhance their development or continue to depress their development. Another area to think about is their access to high quality early childhood education,’’ she says. “A lot of that is dependent on where your family lives: how easy it is to enroll in a program and if there are available slots, and, ultimately, if the program matches the schedule that this family needs for this child. We do know in research that early high quality education and care absolutely helps to mitigate the circumstances around poverty and the conditions of poverty.”

Cristina Pacione-Zayas is director of policy at the Erikson Institute, a Chicago graduate school that focuses on child development and provides services to families.

What are some of the effects of lack of school readiness?

“It has everything to do with is the child ready to be in a formal setting, and what I mean by that is does the child socialize well with his/her peers? Does the child follow instructions? Does the child know how to focus and attend to an activity or is the child going to be distracted and then do what it wants to do?” Pacione-Zayas asks.

“Children who are not ready for school can be labeled as having behavioral issues and then potentially get integrated into a special education program when actually it had nothing to do with what the child’s development but everything to do with was the child was prepared for and exposed to what they need to be successful in kindergarten.

“All of that has sort of a long-term impact because if the child gets misdiagnosed in terms of special education, … We all know there is a strong connection with what happens in early experiences and how you are tracked early on and the outcome you will have later on in life.

“There is also a strong connection between what happens behaviorally in preschool in terms of how young children are being categorized or miscategorized with behavioral issues and how that leads to premature expulsion or suspension and that connects to a long legacy from the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Then why has Illinois placed a greater emphasis on early childhood education and health insurance than child poverty?

Lifson of Voices for Illinois Children has a theory on why the state appears to have done better in the areas of health insurance and early childhood education than poverty.

“It’s clear that while there has been progress in a number of areas, there is still work to do. I would say part of the reason that you see the improvement in terms of children who have health insurance and in terms of some of the education access to education, such as early childhood programs, it’s because the state made a deliberate effort to expand early childhood services, and it made a concerted effort to register children for health care. And so that’s been a success, and really, it’s an indicator that when the state makes a commitment to changing those measures positive things can happen.

“It’s important to continue to make those investments and to see what else we can do to reach those individuals to whom, for whatever reason, don’t have access to early childhood programs or, for whatever reasons, don’t have health insurance,’’ Lifson says.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, is the chairman of the House’s Human Services Committee. He says he doesn’t believe the state has done enough to tackle child poverty or to boost early childhood services or health insurance numbers. He points to cuts made by the administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner as a factor

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, is chairman of the House Human Services Committee.

“We’ve seen growing poverty in the last number of years. We’ve seen increase in uptake in programs that serve families in poverty with food assistance, medical assistance, and other related services. And at the same time, we’ve seen the governor trying to reduce child care, try to limit the availability of food stamps, try to restrict enrollment in the Medicaid program, and it’s making it harder and harder for these families to meet the basic needs of their kids.”

His Republican counterpart, state Rep. Patty Bellock of Hinsdale, agrees with the need to do more about helping child poverty but says, “I think one of the major things we have to look at is the economy in Illinois. We need to create more jobs so more people can support their families. That’s crucial to bring children out of poverty. 

Rowan of Voices, says, “If we’re talking also about helping families get out of poverty, that’s about creating economic opportunities for our families. Are there jobs for children’s parents? Are they jobs that pay a living wage? We know there’s been wage disparity so we want to make sure that we’re getting more families into living-wage jobs. So, does that require job training, additional education so we’re getting people access to full-time year-round positions that pay a living wage?”

Good government programs are a necessity, says Sujata of Chicago Foundation for Women. “We in philanthropy cannot fill the void that the government has put in place. We just don’t have the money, even collectively speaking, to step in and fill the voids when government doesn’t step up and provide …  the safety nets that people require.”

Illinois Issues is in-depth reporting and analysis that takes you beyond the headlies to provide a deeper understanding of our state. Illinois Issues is produced by NPR Illinois in Springfield.

Chicago Tribune: Homeless group close to suit over bike path plan in Uptown

By Mary Wisniewski

The more than three dozen people who live in tents under the Lake Shore Drive bridges at Wilson and Lawrence avenues know better than anyone that the structures need repair.  Continue reading Chicago Tribune: Homeless group close to suit over bike path plan in Uptown

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless tent city residents given 30 days to scram

By Mark Brown, columnist

As I keep saying, if only they knew where to go.

“It’s crunch time now,” said Louis Jones, the street savvy leader of the Wilson viaduct group who expects the situation to “get a whole lot worse” before it gets better.

Louis Jones, who lives in a tent beneath Lake Shore Drive at Wilson Avenue, is among 45 homeless people who will be displaced by construction projects to rehab viaducts over Wilson and Lawrence. File Photo. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

Although long anticipated, the deadline will add to the normal stress of living on the street as the homeless contend with relocating.

With backing from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the people occupying the Uptown viaducts are asking the city to provide them with permanent housing.

So far, there is no indication the city expects to be able to do that.

Counts of the homeless population at the two locations vary.

Lisa Morrison Butler, commissioner of the city Department of Family and Support Services, said her outreach workers counted 43 tents and 25 people on their last visit, leading her to estimate a population of 25-43.

Jones, known on the street as Abdul, said the average nightly count is closer to 50.

“I’ve got nine new clients in the last week and a half,” he said, adopting social worker-speak. Jones noted that two of the recent arrivals had just been released from Cook County Jail. “Wherever they’re running people off in the city, they’re coming here.”

Morrison Butler said the city may be able to house 19 of these individuals with affordable housing openings that went unused during a 2016 pilot program aimed at vacating the two tent encampments. The tent residents are being evaluated to determine who is most in need of housing, she said.

Most of the 75 individuals living in the encampments at the start of the 2016 pilot program were relocated, but others moved in to take their place.

In addition to the 19 openings for temporary or permanent housing, Morrison Butler said the city should have beds available in its homeless shelters for the tent residents.

But people living under the viaducts often refuse to live in shelters, preferring the homeless encampments for a variety of reasons ranging from having more freedom to feeling more safe.

The tents have been a point of tension with some neighbors who complain the homeless are blocking access to Lake Michigan.

I wish those people could see how hard Jones tries to run a tight ship, ordering his homeless neighbors to clean up their messes and to control rowdiness.

In a strange way, the camps have performed a valuable community service by putting homelessness front and center on the Lakefront instead of buried in the city’s nooks and crannies where nobody sees it.

Lawyers from the Coalition for the Homeless said they have yet to meet with the city in response to their written threat to file a lawsuit over the construction project.

Nobody denies the need for the repair work.

But the coalition contends the design of the project, which will place bike lanes on the sidewalk where homeless people now have tents, is a violation of the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act because it’s purpose is to prevent them from returning.

The city denies any such intent, pointing to a bicycling plan released in 2012 that calls for Lawrence to be a major bike route connecting to the Lakefront Path.

Another factor in the drama ahead is a group called Uptown Tent City Organizers, which helped supply many of the tents the homeless people are using.

The activist group pushes a more aggressively political agenda, but also has been effective in highlighting the plight of the homeless.

I’ve seen this movie before. It never ends well for the little guy.