Mark 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)
Mark 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)
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)
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.”
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
“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.
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
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.
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.
The Wilson viaduct. Photo: John Greenfield
By John Greenfield
Did you ever notice how the glass panels of standard CTA bus shelters don’t go all the to the roof, so that when you wait for a ride during a heavy rainstorm you tend to get wet anyway? Have you used a public bench that was sort of uncomfortable because city planners wanted to make sure it would be almost impossible to sleep on? Ever notice that urban bridges often have large boulders placed underneath them to create an uneven surface, or how window frames sometimes feature spiky fixtures to keep people from sitting on them? That’s called defensive architecture, strategies to discourage loitering, which often have the effect of making public space less useable and welcoming for all of us.
It appears that the city of Chicago wants to use bicycle infrastructure as a form of defensive architecture, by installing bike lanes on the wide sidewalks in Lake Shore Drive’s Lawrence and Wilson viaducts in Uptown. For years people experiencing homelessness have camped out on the sidewalks within the underpasses, many of them using tents provided by homeless advocates. On occasion the city has forced these folks to remove their belongings, such as before a 2015 Mumford & Sons concert at nearby Montrose Beach, which has often resulted in protests by advocates and threats of lawsuits. The situation has been a constant headache for city officials, especially bike-friendly local alderman James Cappleman.
To varying degrees, I’m sympathetic to all involved parties. It’s generally not lawful to camp out in public space in Chicago, and it’s understandable that some of Cappleman’s constituents don’t feel they should have to pass through an illegal homeless encampment in order to walk to the beach.
On the other hand, these tent cities provide the residents with shelter from the elements, safety in numbers, and a sense of community. These locations make it easy for them to be located by people who wish to offer donations of goods and services and check on their wellbeing. Moreover, the encampments are a high-profile symbol of our city’s failure to adequately address its homelessness problem, which is one reason they’re so embarrassing for politicians.
As reported by the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown, the city is planning to install bike lanes on the sidewalks of the viaducts as part of the reconstruction of the underpasses, which is slated to begin next month. Presumably the new bikeways will be similar to the sidewalk lanes in a Metra viaduct on Randolph between Canal and Clinton in the West Loop.
While there’s no question that the crumbling Lawrence and Wilson underpasses should be rebuilt, the bike lanes would make it impossible for homeless people to return to the viaducts after the renovations are finished. Therefore on Wednesday the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless announced its intention of suing the city if it follows through with the bike lane plans. In a letter to city officials, the group demanded that permanent housing be found for all people currently living in the underpasses, and that the project be redesigned so that there will be space for tents in the future. There was a protest over the issue yesterday.
When I checked in with Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey about the bike lane plans today, he provided the following statement:
The improved viaduct will better accommodate the high volume of pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles that travel to and from the lakefront more safely, including improved sidewalks and dedicated off-street bicycle paths. Designs are final and a contractor has been selected for the work. Construction work is expected to start in September and is estimated to take eight months.
When developing and designing projects such as the Lawrence and Wilson viaducts, CDOT makes a determination about layout based on traffic volume, conditions on nearby roadways and longer-term development plans in the adjacent communities. Each project is different and what works for one viaduct may not be the best design for others. In this case, CDOT began the design process by incorporating the recommendations in the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, which was published in December 2012. Lawrence Ave. from Austin to the Lakefront Trail is included as a crosstown bike route. Wilson from Spaulding to the Lakefront Trail is designated a neighborhood bike route.
[It was determined that], given the available right of way, built environment, and traffic volumes, the best option would be to utilize the unusually wide right of way for separated bike lanes and pedestrian ways, while preserving traffic capacity. This is consistent with other repairs and building of bridges along Lake Shore Drive, with an upgraded pedestrian/bicycle bridge at North Avenue and ongoing work on the Navy Pier Flyover. New pedestrian/bicycle bridges are also being added to the south side, at 35th St. (finished in 2016) and 41st St., currently under construction.
While, all other things being equal, putting bike lanes on these sidewalks would be a good strategy to make biking through these tunnels somewhat more comfortable, as things stand these are not particularly hazardous passages for cyclists. Under the current configuration, tents included, families and less-confident riders can already ride slowly or walk their bikes on the wide sidewalks within the viaducts. As an Uptown resident myself, my experience has been that the folks living in the viaducts are friendly to passers-by and careful to leave plenty of room on the wide sidewalk for pedestrians.
Moreover, there are hundreds of viaducts in this city. If it’s simply a coincidence that the two underpasses where tent cities are causing a public relations nightmare for the city are the ones that are getting bikeways that will displace those encampments, as CDOT claims, that’s a heck of a coincidence.
More likely, this is a very intentional attempt by the city to use bike infrastructure as defensive architecture, to try to keep the homeless from occupying public space in the future. Other bike advocates may disagree with me on this issue, but in this case I say “Not in my name.”
By Mark Brown, columnist
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless threatened Wednesday to file suit against the city over two planned Lake Shore Drive viaduct construction projects that will displace long-time Uptown homeless encampments.
In a letter to Corporation Counsel Edward Siskel, lawyers for the coalition accused the city of intentionally discriminating against homeless people in the design of the new underpasses at Lawrence and Wilson avenues.
The projects include installing bike lanes on the sidewalks where homeless people now pitch tents, effectively preventing anyone from returning there after the work is complete.
The coalition is demanding the city provide permanent housing for everyone currently living beneath the two viaducts and to re-design the planned work to avoid narrowing the sidewalk.
The city has said previously it expects construction work to begin in September. No deadline has been announced for removing the tent residents.
One of those who will be displaced is Carol Aldape, a 68-year-old grandmother who has lived under the viaducts since early May.
Aldape told me she lost her lease in a nearby Marine Drive apartment when the owner decided to sell.
She was unable to find another apartment in the area that would accept both her Section 8 housing voucher — and her two dogs, Bella and Chief.
Aldape decided it would be better to live on the street than to give up her pets, so she rode her electric scooter over to the Lawrence Avenue viaduct and asked to “see the manager” about the cost of renting a tent.
Informed there was no manager and that the tents were free, Aldape decided it was the “answer to my prayers,” which speaks more to her desperation than the modest accommodations.
“It was scary the first couple nights — and cold, too,” she told me Tuesday night sitting outside her tent, the dogs safely inside.
Yet Aldape seems genuinely grateful for this meager lifeline while she seeks another option.
Aldape said she suffers from multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart trouble and a bad back. With her doctors nearby at Weiss Hospital, she is determined to stay close.
“I guess they expect me to get worse with the MS as time goes on. But that’s in God’s hands,” she shrugged.
It was the bad back that forced her to retire from work and go on Social Security disability.
Before that, she’d spent 20 years working in a nail salon. She also held jobs at Dominick’s, as a waitress and at an animal shelter.
Aldape was never married, but raised one son. She said she doesn’t know whether he knows she’s homeless, but doesn’t want to bother him.
“We’re sort of on the outs,” she said, then after a pause: “We’re on the outs. I do things my way. We really don’t talk. I’d rather he do his life. He came through me, not to me. I can take care of myself, basically.”
Aldape said she has no other remaining family, but has good friends in the neighborhood who “make sure I’m OK.”
She said she was homeless once previously, but back then, there was a women’s shelter in the neighborhood that has since closed. Shelters aren’t an option this time anyhow, with her dogs.
Aldape’s family moved here from Nebraska when she was 6 and lived above a Near North tavern that was torn down to make way for a Sandburg Village high-rise. In the years since, waves of gentrification have pushed her from Lincoln Park to Lakeview to Uptown.
“It’s all gone the same. It’s prime property, and I’m sure they want it for the prime people,” she said.
Eventually, city officials will step up to help Aldape, I believe.
What I worry about more is what happens to the next person in her situation who won’t even have the survival option of pitching a tent under the viaduct because the “prime people” want a bike lane.
LaTanya Gray, Senior Director of Early Childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children, at the April 20 press conference announcing FIT: “Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night.”
The City of Chicago and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless launched a new initiative, Housing Support for CPS Families in Transition (FIT), to provide permanent housing and services for 100 families experiencing homelessness in high crime communities. The goal of FIT is to help Chicago’s most vulnerable families to establish stability so that their children can succeed in school and life. The initiative will be funded with a $1 million investment by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund (CLIHTF) matched with funds via the City’s 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs.
Families that are homeless are at a significantly higher risk for experiencing violence, a dynamic that is magnified in communities where there is a high level of violence. Responding to the lack of housing options and support for the more than 9,925 families with school age children experiencing homelessness in Chicago, the Coalition initiated the HomeWorks Campaign. Working with parent leaders and housing providers, HomeWorks advocates for improved school services and more family-sized housing with supportive services, including housing for families through the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and the Chicago Housing Authority. The HomeWorks campaign made very clear that despite the overwhelming need for housing by these families, less than 1% were accessing permanent supportive housing.
Drawing from the methodology and lessons from the Ending Veterans Homeless Initiative and the Chronic Homeless Pilot programs, the City and the HomeWorks campaign partnered to lead the FIT initiative. FIT identifies families with children experiencing homelessness enrolled in the six targeted public schools and provides an assessment for the families using a standard Vulnerability Index. Resources will be targeted to those who are considered to be the most vulnerable. The FIT definition of homelessness includes families that are doubled up and therefore are not eligible for many HUD funded homeless programs.
“We are so excited to see dedicated state and local housing resources going towards permanent housing for homeless families, “ said Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “In particular, we applaud the city for including “doubled-up” families in those considered eligible for the program as this group has had great difficulty accessing housing assistance due to limited definitions of homelessness.”
This summer, the Coalition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Chicago’s the Department of Family and Support Services began the first phase of this effort by reaching out to families enrolled in the Students in Temporary Living Situations program in six targeted schools to inform them about the program. The second phase will include assessment of all the families and placement of the eligible families into 100 new permanent supportive housing units to be added by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund. Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers, support from a housing provider to locate housing, and wraparound services to support them in maintaining their housing.
The Chicago City Council enacted the 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs in 2016 by a vote of 43-7. Proceeds for the surcharge are dedicated to funding supportive services and housing for homeless families as well as people who have been chronically homeless. In addition to the surcharge, the ordinance requires registration, licensing, and data sharing for short-term rentals. The surcharge will generate an estimated $2 million annually.
To learn more about FIT, contact Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Associate Policy Director Mary Tarullo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 641-4140.
Last week, a group of professionals representing the Illinois Public Health Association, Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, EverThrive, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Protect Our Care Illinois Coalition supported a press conference in front of Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s Rockford office.
Our message was simple: Please meet with local health department leadership and other health care stakeholders from his 16th District before voting on the next version of health care reform. We also delivered a letter signed by 24 public health and social service organizations from the district asking Rep. Kinzinger to vote no for the health care reform bill as it is currently written.
Out goal for this proposed meeting was to educate Kinzinger regarding the major implications that the current proposed health care reform will have on public and preventative health. the letter was not partisan. During tough budgetary times, public health leadership must speak out for the funds they rely on from the state and federal government to provide essential services to their communities. the current proposed legislation would jeopardize those funds and services.
Prior to last week, our group reached out to Kinzinger’s field staff to schedule this critical meeting and were told that he would not be able to meet with us at all. After a second request following the press briefing, we were offered a brief and cordial conversation with the field representative and were told he would get back to us.
After we left, some of Kinzinger’s staff made comments misrepresenting how things had occurred and questioned our involvement. We must reiterate that the press conference and discussion were both completely pleasant and positive. The group implored the staff to let Kinzinger know that what the public health leadership and health care professionals were asking for was a comprehensive and constructive meeting to discuss the impact of the current proposed legislation.
Many of us work in local, regional and state government, and we believe that working with our elected officials is the best way to assure a strong and robust government system and a successful democracy. The first critical step from Kinzinger’s office would be to respect our efforts toward collaboration and schedule this important meeting.
Given the constant budgetary constraints, health departments must be allowed to tell their stories to prevent further funding cuts. Public health must advocate at the state and national level for recognition of our work to protect the public and promote health.
We are very concerned about the speed at which things are moving in Washington. Kinzinger does not have all the facts about the impact of the bill including that more than 33,000 people in his district would lose health care coverage either through insurance of Medicaid. Nationally, 23 million people would lose coverage. The drastic Medicaid cuts proposed would devastate health care access, including treatment for mental illness and addictions right at a time our nation is in crisis in both of these areas.
Our arguments are not about taking political sides, nor are we suggesting the Affordable Care Act is perfect. This is to ask that both parties work together to improve the ACA rather than quickly repealing it with an inadequate and downright harmful replacement. Because this vote is expected to be so close, it is imperative that Kinzinger be able to make a well-informed decision. We are going to continue to push for a meeting as it is our professional responsibility to protect the health and promote the wellness of our communities and the constitutents of Kinzinger’s districts.
— Tom Hughes, Illinois Public Health Association executive director, and Cathy Ferguson-Allen, IPHA president
By Mary Tarullo, Associate Director of Policy, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
HomeWorks, a housing and schools campaign spearheaded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), is working with the city of Chicago to launch a program to provide housing for homeless families with children.
Among its innovations, the program will include doubled-up families – those seeking shelter with other people – after assessing the most vulnerable among 264 homeless families identified at the six schools. It marks the first time that local housing dollars will serve doubled-up Chicago families.
Announced in April, the program will offer permanent housing and supportive services to 100 homeless families from six Chicago elementary schools in high-crime neighborhoods.
“We are thrilled that the city committed a new resource for housing for homeless families, and in particular, that it recognizes the needs of highly vulnerable doubled-up households that previously have not been able to receive housing and services,” said CCH Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg.
HomeWorks organized in mid-2015 to advocate that the city prioritize addressing family homelessness, including school services and the needs of doubled-up families, just as veteran homelessness was prioritized a few years ago.
Housing Homeless Families will be funded by a $1 million yearly investment from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, with $900,000 from the city’s new house-sharing (Airbnb) tax.
Last year, HomeWorks worked with the mayor’s office and the Chicago City Council to enact a 4 percent surcharge on the house-sharing industry, making Chicago among the first municipalities to leverage a dedicated funding source for homelessness. CCH also pushed for the housing trust to dedicate new housing resources after CCH helped secure the release of escrowed funds owed the rental housing support program.
The city and family housing providers will identify families, working closely with shelters specializing in family services and with the Chicago Public Schools.
Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers and be matched to a provider who helps them locate housing, ensuring a smooth transition. Housing navigators will help families get to appointments and obtain required documents for their housing applications. Families will continue to work with providers as they receive wraparound services to support them in maintaining permanent housing.
In a press conference to announce the new program, CCH released a report on doubled-up homeless families in Chicago. The report shows that 82% of homeless people living in Chicago in 2015 sought shelter with relatives and friends, or doubled-up. To assess the size of Chicago’s homeless population, CCH developed a new methodology using U. S. Census data. This method also provides a more precise understanding of how many families are doubled-up.
The report shows that 82,212 people were homeless in Chicago in 2015, an unduplicated count. Eighty-seven percent of homeless families (8,634 families) with children were doubled-up.
CCH also found that 44% of homeless families served by the emergency shelter system had doubled-up with friends or family, either prior to or after entering the shelter system within that year. This shows many families experience both types of homelessness, cycling in and out of shelters and the homes of others.
They include families like Chrishauna Thompson’s. Her family became homeless after Chrishauna’s mother suffered a back injury, leaving her unable to work two caregiver jobs. Over the next four years, Chrishauna, 17, changed schools nine times as her family doubled-up with different relatives.
“Doubled-up is homeless,” said Chrishauna. “I never had a key. I didn’t have privacy. A lot of times I was late for school waiting for a shower. I was worried that we could be put out at any time.”
As of now, there is no path for doubled-up families to access the housing resources made available to families in shelters. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a limited definition of homelessness that includes people at “a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter… (or) a public or private place not designed for a regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.”
“Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night,” said LaTanya Gray, senior director of early childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children. Newly relocated to the city’s South Side, the Primo Center provides housing and services to over 500 homeless families in Chicago a year.
Working with children from birth to age 5, Gray says she sees the impact of homelessness on young children. Many suffer from anxiety.
“They’re angry and sometimes act out. Their young lives have been so chaotic,” Gray explained.
Eight housing providers partner with CCH on the HomeWorks campaign: AIDS Foundation, Beacon Therapeutic, Catholic Charities, CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing), Facing Forward to End Homelessness, Heartland Alliance, Primo Center for Women and Children, and Unity Parenting and Counseling Center.
Editors note: Public schools, early childhood programs, and other federal programs use a definition of homelessness that does include families who are staying with others temporarily because there is nowhere else to go (doubled-up). The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 1511/S. 611) would amend HUD’s definition of homeless to include children and youth who have been determined to be homeless by these federal programs. The legislation would require HUD to honor local communities’ priorities, including by allowing using HUD homeless assistance to assess and serve these families and youth.
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By Alexandria Johnson
For nearly 68,000 Chicagoans, the majority of them in families with children, being homeless does not mean sleeping on the street or in a park. Their friends, neighbors and classmates might not even know they are homeless.
But they are “doubled-up,” a type of homelessness basically defined as living in crowded dwellings with extended family members or friends because of economic hardship. A recent study by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless found more than 80 percent of the city’s homeless population living in this situation, a total of 67,582 individuals living doubled-up out of a total of 82,212 homeless people in 2015. There were almost 10,000 families living doubled up, and more than 11,000 unaccompanied youth, according to the study. More than half of the people living doubled up were African-American.
Though they might not obviously appear homeless, children growing up in such situations suffer many of the same struggles as people living outside or in other transient situations. So, the Coalition for the Homeless and city officials are stepping up their efforts to serve this population and reduce the number of families living doubled-up.
“There’s no difference between these families [and people on the streets] in terms of the reasons they become homeless or what they need,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the coalition. “Some of them end up going to a shelter. Some of them end up moving into someone’s house, but they’re all becoming homeless because they can’t afford their housing.”
Coalition leaders and city officials hope to help people like Jakyla Mitchell, a 15-year-old student at Harlan Community Academy High School, on the city’s far South Side.
Mitchell enjoys participating in poetry club and playing volleyball at school. She said she’s proud of her grades and is looking forward to taking an honors art class next year. But she does all this with extra challenges that her classmates may not face or understand.
Most days after school, Mitchell chooses not to head straight home, where she lives in a three-bedroom house with at least six other people, sometimes more. She sticks around school to work on homework where she can better concentrate.
“It’s hard because with so many kids in one place, it can be hard to get things done with my homework,” said Mitchell. “Mom wants to move, but we don’t know where. I want to be somewhere kind of quiet.”
Mitchell, her mother, mother’s boyfriend, her sister and her sister’s three children all live together in the small home in the Roseland neighborhood. Sometimes more than seven people live in the house at once, including friends of Mitchell’s mother when they need a place to stay due to relationship problems.
“My mom invites people who can’t stay at their houses,” Mitchell said. “Her old friends have to stay and bring their kids.”
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless report estimated that 67,582 total individuals lived doubled-up in the city in 2015. The coalition recently created a new methodology to better assess the size of Chicago’s homeless population by calculating an unduplicated total of homeless individuals based on analysis of the Homeless Management Information System, a database that tracks people accessing homeless services, and data about doubled-up individuals from the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census.
“We think [this methodology] is really sound and much more accurate than what we’ve done in the past,” Dworkin said. “It’s something that can be replicated every year in exactly the same way, so we can really compare from year to year what homelessness looks like in Chicago.”
The coalition’s definition of homelessness includes all people considered homeless by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – people lacking a regular, adequate nighttime residence, including those living in shelters or temporary residential institutions or people in places not designed as regular sleeping accommodations. The coalition’s definition also includes those living doubled-up, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education as people sharing others’ housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship.
“This is honestly a very conservative estimate, we’ve been cautious as to who to include as doubled-up households,” said coalition intern Thomas Brown, a recent University of Chicago graduate. “In lots of cases, we decided we couldn’t assign someone as doubled-up because it didn’t look like it would be for economic reasons, but there are sometimes non-economic reasons for someone to be doubled-up, like an LGBT individual who might’ve been kicked out of the house.”
People in such situations are not included in the homeless estimate. Other exclusions include single adult children living with parents for reasons other than economic hardship, heads of households’ relatives over age 65 living with family for health reasons, grandchildren who live with grandparents claiming responsibility for their basic needs and people in institutions or group lodgings.
In conjunction with the April report, the coalition announced a collaboration with the City of Chicago in a pilot program aimed at addressing homelessness in neighborhoods with the city’s highest violence rates. This fall, the program plans to connect 100 homeless families attending Chicago Public Schools in Austin, Humboldt Park, West Englewood and Englewood with new supportive housing units.
“We know that we have an unmet need for supportive housing for individuals and families,” said Betsy Benito, director of the Illinois program at the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which is also involved in that pilot program. “We’re really excited about the 100 units to get us going to help respond to these families.”
Rent subsidies for the initiative will be funded with $1 million from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, and the city’s 4 percent surcharge on AirBnB rentals will fund supportive services for the families. Dworkin said the next phase of the campaign will include working with the Chicago Housing Authority – which oversees public and subsidized housing – on addressing homelessness.