Chicago Tribune: Crowded houses – program seeks to aid homeless families forced to live with family, friends

Published June 2, 2017
By Tony Briscoe, Chicago Tribune reporter

Pandemonium has been the norm for 17-year-old Sonitra Mitchell in the two years since her family lost their north suburban apartment and moved in with more than a dozen relatives living at her grandmother’s Far South Side two-flat.

Each morning, before the sun rises, the high school junior is roused by a flurry of footsteps and flickering lights before she gets up and jockeys for position outside the bathroom. After a five-minute shower, enforced by a timer, she gets dressed and hustles to catch a city bus from West Pullman to Harlan Community Academy, about 4 miles away.

After class, she takes her time before heading back into the fray of the crowded household.

LINK TO VIEW VIDEO: In collaboration with the nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a new city program looks to help families forced to live with others. (Alyssa Pointer and Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

“I didn’t like coming home,” Sonitra said. “I would stay at school as long as possible to do anything I could. I would sit at school and do homework, talk to friends. … But every time I woke up I was like, ‘I have to start this day over and over, again.'”

Sprawling homeless encampments under viaducts and families vying for beds at local shelters are the most visible examples of housing instability. But there are thousands more who have seen their lives upended by economic hardship, forcing them to move in with friends or family.

For the first time, people like Sonitra — who fall into a category known as “doubled up” — are being included in an initiative to help the homeless. The Chicago Department of Family and Support Servicesin April announced it will be providing permanent housing for 100 homeless and at-risk families with children who live in the high-crime neighborhoods of Austin, Humboldt Park, West Englewood and Englewood.

Created in collaboration with nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the pilot program seeks to provide housing stability for students. The program will be paid for through a city tax on the home-sharing industry, which includes companies like Airbnb.

In implementing the city tax, Chicago joins a handful of municipalities across the country that have created a sustainable stream of funds dedicated to assisting homeless families instead of relying on unpredictable state and federal money. In March, Los Angeles County residents voted to increase the sales tax a quarter-percent to raise an estimated $3.5 billion over a decade in an effort to house 45,000 of the county’s 47,000 homeless people.

Crain’s Chicago Business, Letter to the Editor: Dear Springfield, shame, shame, shame

Published June 1, 2017

Crowds of Illinois residents just traveled to Springfield asking our state government to do its job. It’s shameful that elected officials have left the state of Illinois without an operating budget for two years. It isn’t just a crisis—it’s a catastrophe. Businesses are laying off workers and closing because their contracts with the state have not been fulfilled. Ambitious students are dropping out of college because the tuition assistance they earned is being withheld.

“The private sector” can’t save us. All the foundations together do not have enough money to keep this ship afloat. Foundations provide over $3 billion in grants each year. While that is a lot of funding, it’s only one-tenth of an annual state budget—when we had one.

Solutions abound, if one has the guts to put what’s right for the entire state ahead of what’s politically expedient. Lawmakers, please listen to the residents who marched across the state to ask you to do your job. If you can hear them above the sound of ideologies clashing.

LESLIE RAMYK
Executive director
Conant Family Foundation

DOUG SCHENKELBERG
Executive director
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

WCIA 3 News: Bill helps homeless teens seeking shelter

Bill helps homeless teens seeking shelter

Being underage can be a major obstacle when homeless teens seek an escape.

By Raquel Martin

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), every year around 25,000 young people find themselves homeless in the state. Without a safe place to go, many lawmakers believe their lives are put in danger.

It’s why they proposed a new bill allowing minors, from 16 – 18, to take advantage of transitional shelters without their parents’ permission.

Right now, minors must first be emancipated in order to use a shelter. Without a place to go, many are sleeping in places such as cars or other public spaces.

According to the CCH, about a third of homeless young people say they’ve left home because of physical abuse. Lawmakers who support the bill say they these shelters are safe alternative.

“You want a teenager, if they’re seeking help, to be able to access those services and programs that a shelter provides. I mean, you don’t want to jeopardize anybody’s safety by putting them back on the streets if they don’t have the proper permission. You want them to be safe,” says Steve Staldeman (D- Rockford).

The bill is facing some opposition. It passed the House 71 – 40 and now is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Some lawmakers are concerned the bill would encourage more minors to leave home.

There are dozens of transitional shelters for teens around the state. Each offers counseling services so children can ultimately reunite with their parents.

Those who support the bill say these shelters are not meant to be permanent solutions but a way to keep those vulnerable protected.

Chicago Sun-Times: Quinn shares canvas with Lincoln, White Sox, people of color

CCH editor’s note: Former Gov. Quinn’s new portrait includes a photograph of the governor signing a bill to ask voters if the state’s minimum wage should be increased. It shows Mr. Quinn handing the pen to long-time CCH leader Gloria Davis, an activist on the 2014 wage campaign. Ms. Davis was invited to Springfield to participate in a celebration of the potrait’s unveiling. 

By Tina Sfondeles

Former Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday unveiled his official portrait at the Illinois State Capitol — a painting featuring 44 items that he deemed important to his life, including photographs of his family, a link to a Bible verse and a photograph of him signing a bill that placed a referendum about minimum wage on the ballot.

It’s the first governor’s portrait to feature “people of color” in the Hall of Governors.

The portrait painted by Illinois artist William T. Chambers features Quinn standing in front of a desk, surrounded by pictures of his parents and family members, while holding a Bible. An image of Abraham Lincoln is framed behind him. Other items include a baseball with a plaque that reads 2005 — an homage to the Chicago White Sox World Series win.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn’s official portrait. Provided photo.

During the ceremony, Quinn joked that the artist offered to put “found items” in the portrait, and Quinn chose to include 44 of them.

He spoke of expanding healthcare coverage, signing the marriage equality law and abolishing the death penalty — all depicted in the portrait as well.

“We have to protect that expansion right now,” Quinn said during the unveiling, alluding to President Donald Trump’s overhaul of Obamacare.

Quinn said he came into office during a “difficult time” — with a recession and an imprisoned governor. Quinn was sworn in as governor in 2009 after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached. Quinn lost a re-election bid to Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2014.

To applause — and in a nod to the state’s historic budget impasse — Quinn noted he signed six budgets during his tenure. He spoke about signing important revenue measures. He said he was willing to raise taxes — “it wasn’t easy but it was important.”

The portrait also includes a photograph of Quinn signing a bill that put an advisory referendum on the November 2014 ballot asking voters whether the state’s minimum wage should be increased. He is surrounded by supporters in the image, which marks the first time “people of color” have ever been featured in a governor’s portrait.

The painting features 44 interactive “found items” representing people and issues from his career in public service. Quinn also announced the creation of the GovernorQuinnPortrait.org website where visitors can follow links to items featured in the portrait.

Quinn opted not to use state funds for the portrait and instead raised money for the framed painting and website.

Columbia Chronicle: Housing program finds homes for 100 families

High school student Sonitra Mitchell, 17, said she has been in and out of her grandmother’s house since birth—sometimes living with four different families at a time.

Mitchell is one of the 82,212 homeless people in Chicago, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ April 19 report for 2015. Of the homeless population, 82 percent identify as doubled-up families-, or families staying with other families.

“There is nowhere that I can call my home,” Mitchell said. “I had to come to school thinking everything was okay, knowing I was in pain and going through [anxiety.]”

According to an April 20 press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office, the city will start housing 100 of these families this fall through the new Housing Homeless Families program. The Department of Family and Support Services is partnering with the coalition and the Corporation for Supportive Housing-, –a community housing organization, to provide new permanent housing for families from six public schools in Humboldt Park, Englewood, West Englewood and Austin.

Maura McCauley, DFSS Chicago region director of Homeless Prevention, Policy and Planning, said the goal is for families to receive housing where they can reconnect with their existing support networks or find new ones.

“Homelessness can be a traumatic experience, and we know that housing stability through having your own home contributes to the overall well-being for all people,” McCauley said. “With children, we know that also contributes to educational success.”

The families will be chosen through a “vulnerability index,” which will take many factors into consideration including the ages and number of children, and the physical and mental health of their families, said Julie Dworkin, director of policy at the CCH. Those who receive the highest scores during the assessment will be given housing, she added.

For some families, this housing opportunity will mean not having to undergo hardships like having to leave belongings behind when moving into another person’s home or a hotel, Mitchell said.

“It’s been kind of terrible because you have no room, no space and no privacy,” she said. “The only difference between doubled-up [housing] and living in shelters is that you are living with someone that you actually know.”

While Mitchell will not be considered for the program because she lives in West Pullman, this is the first city housing program that will take doubled-up families similar to hers into consideration for housing, Dworkin said.

“Because this program is all locally generated funding, we advocated for them to include the doubled-up families, and [Emanuel] agreed to do that,” Dworkin said. “They are going to be considered for the first time.”

The funding for the program will be a combination of $1 million from the city’s 4 percent Airbnb tax, and $1 million from the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund, according to Dworkin.

Families who are not eligible to receive housing can still be assessed and given other resources and support services, McCauley said.

The department will start meeting with families at the end of the 2016–2017 academic year to inform them about the different resources for which they are eligible, but they will not start assessing families for the housing program until the next academic year, she added.

“We are rolling out this coordinated process to identify families in need, assess them quickly and match them to the appropriate resource,” McCauley said. “I hope the housing is the beginning of a long period of stability.”

The Architect’s Newspaper: Chicago uses Airbnb fees to house 100 homeless families

By Matthew Messner

While many cities struggle with their relationship with house-sharing micro-rental companies, Chicago is looking on the bright side of the relatively new phenomenon. The city has announced that it will use $1 million raised from fees paid by homeowners who use home-sharing platforms, such as Airbnb, to help house 100 homeless families. The Housing Homeless Families program is a joint initiative with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, one of the city’s primary resources for information on and advocacy for the homeless population.

The program will focus on families in areas of the city with high violent crime rates, including Austin, Englewood, West Englewood, and Humboldt Park. Working with shelters that specialize in family services and the Chicago Public School system, the program will focus specifically on families with school-age children.

“The goal of this initiative is to help our most vulnerable families to establish stability so that their children can succeed,” said Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler. “Thanks to collaboration with our partners at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the city will deliver a coordinated response to ensure the needs of our most vulnerable families are met, and to prevent families on the cusp from experiencing homelessness.”

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless recently released a report on the number of homeless people in the city. The count includes data on those who “double-up,” referring to people that do not have their own home but stay with friends or relatives. The report, which looks at 2015, found the city to have 82,000 homeless individuals, which includes nearly 10,000 homeless families. It is estimated that 87 percent of those who identified as homeless were “doubled-up.”

The money for the new program was raised through a $1 million investment by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund, with matching funds from a four percent surcharge leveled against homeowners using Airbnb and other home-sharing programs. That money will go towards providing housing vouchers to families and provide additional transition services. Those services will include helping families set up appointments, navigate the housing application process, and work with housing providers. The ultimate goal is to find permanent housing for the participating families.

“Around the city, children should be able to focus on their studies, and not where they are going to sleep at night,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the announcement of the initiative. “Working with our partners at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless on this new initiative, we will work to ensure that more families experiencing or on the verge of homelessness can find and maintain the housing and stability they need to thrive and provide for their children.”

CBS-TV Chicago: Homeless problem includes families forced to ‘double-up’

By Vince Gerasole

(CBS) — For the first time, the city of Chicago has some money to helpfamilies who don’t fit the traditional definition of the word “homeless.”

Most people who are without a home are not living on Lower Wacker Drive or beneath an expressway underpass, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Their new definition of homeless includes families who are “doubled-up,” their term for families living temporarily with relatives or friends and not in a shelter.

They say more than 80 percent of homeless people are doubled-up.

Dominique Moore and her two children spent four months living with cousins before they went to a shelter. She says the shelter was actually better.

“Your family — you get in expecting them to be more open and welcoming, knowing that you’re in a bad situation. But you only get bad results,” Moore, 27, says.

Areasha Jackson is another example. She raises two daughters in a single room in a friend’s basement, while working as a home care aide for $250 a week.

“I get up and go to work every day and try and do my best and just pray — that’s it,”  Jackson tells CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole. LINK TO THE TV video here.

Federal money has not been available to help doubled-up families. But now the city says a portion of $1.8 million from a city surcharge on Airbnb rentals will help some of those families.

A new count estimates there are 82,000 homeless people in Chicago, most of them in the doubled-up situation.

WTTW: Chicago to house 100 homeless families, address ‘doubled-up’ population

By Maya Miller

This fall, 100 homeless families with school-age children will gain permanent housing and support services, thanks to a partnership between the city and the nonprofit Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the program Thursday morning, just one day after the coalition released its most recent figures on Chicago’s homeless population: 82,212 in 2015.

For the first time, the organization’s count includes the so-called “doubled-up” population – people who stay with friends and relatives in hard times. Though many self-identify as homeless, the U.S. Department for Housing and Urban Development does not recognize them as such, according to Julie Dworkin, the director of policy at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Continue reading WTTW: Chicago to house 100 homeless families, address ‘doubled-up’ population

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: They don’t live under a bridge, but they’re still homeless

These Chicago public high school students want others to know that “doubled up” families like theirs should be recognized as homeless. From left are Michael Hunter, Avion Smith, Chrishauna Thompson, Sonitra Mitchell, Jakyla Mitchell and Emilia Rendon. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown

I spent a heartbreaking couple of hours last week sitting around a table with six high school students who would tell you without hesitation that they are homeless even though they go to bed at night with a roof over their heads.

Each of these young people has been living “doubled up,” staying with relatives or friends after losing their own housing because of financial hardships.

It’s a hard way to live, they wanted me to know, in some ways more difficult than staying in a homeless shelter, which several of them also have done.

Continue reading Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: They don’t live under a bridge, but they’re still homeless

Cook County Clerk’s office: David Orr lauds legislation making birth records free of charge for homeless, domestic violence victims, formerly incarcerated

Editor’s Note: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless advocated for this measure with Mr. Orr’s office, and a similar bill to assist homeless people statewide, House Bill 3060.

Cook County Clerk David Orr on Wednesday commended the Cook County Board of Commissioners for their passage of legislation that removes the fees for birth certificates from his office for homeless residents, domestic violence victims living in shelters and recently released inmates.

Orr worked with legislation sponsors Commissioners Larry Suffredin, John P. Daley, and Robert Steele on the amendment to the ordinance detailing Clerk’s Vital Records fees. The County Board approved the measure at their Wednesday meeting.

The amendment to the Vital Records fees ordinance states that homeless Cook County residents or not-for-profit organizations representing them, individuals who have been released from the state Department of Corrections or the Cook County Department of Corrections in the past 90 days and individuals residing in domestic violence shelters, “may receive a copy of their birth record at no cost.”

Continue reading Cook County Clerk’s office: David Orr lauds legislation making birth records free of charge for homeless, domestic violence victims, formerly incarcerated