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.
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.”
Chicago’s first rapid response center designed to help homeless families get on the path to permanent housing will be built on the West Side through a collaboration between city officials and the Salvation Army.
“We’re just very thankful for the opportunity the city is providing us,” said Lt. Col. Charles Smith, metropolitan divisional commander for the Salvation Army. “We look forward to this service as the years go by.”
The Shield of Hope, 910 N. Christiana Ave., will have a 20-room unit that can house up to 75 beds and a multipurpose room that can house cots if necessary. Families can stay at the shelter from one to 10 days while being assessed and then will be referred to one of the 50 family shelters in the city before hopefully moving to permanent housing, Smith said.
Construction is scheduled to begin in April or May 2017, and the facility is scheduled to open its doors in the latter part of spring 2018, he added.
CCH NOTE: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless works in a reentry coalition advocating passage of Rep. Wheeler’s bill, House Bill 3142.
Our Reentry Project is part of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI). The coalition was organized in 2015 by CCH, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and Heartland Alliance. RROCI advocates for policies that remove barriers for ex-offenders in community reentry.
By Dusty Rhodes
In a way, it’s just one little box on a lengthy college application form. But for many would-be students, that box is more of a stop sign if the instructions say “check here if you have a criminal record.” State Rep. Barbara Wheeler, a Republican from Crystal Lake, wants to change that.
She sat down with Education Desk reporter Dusty Rhodes to explain why.
Rep. Wheeler: A couple of years ago, a constituent came to me after he had been in some trouble during his high school years, and he needed some help with expungement as well as some advice in regard to going on with his life after high school graduation.
How does the person’s work advance social justice? What is the person’s vision for an equitable world?
“Taishi Neuman is inspired to help families coping with poverty. First homeless at age 15, she experienced homelessness again when multiple sclerosis left her unable to work as a nursing home assistant.
She thought she was too reserved to speak up, until Taishi met a community organizer from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). He was running an outreach session, telling parents at her transitional housing program how they could speak up about school issues.
Below the busy Lake Shore Drive bridge over Wilson Avenue, snow and ice secures Mark Saulys’ tent to the cement. He has been homeless for more than a year but will trade his nylon walls for a sturdier home in a couple of weeks because of a city housing initiative, he said.
“I’m worried for the people here, and I can see that they are worried about being tossed out,” Saulys said about his neighbors remaining in Uptown’s Tent City.
Dozens of homeless people find refuge under the viaduct, which has often put them at odds with Chicago politicians. But construction slated to begin on the Lake Shore Drive bridges intersecting with Wilson Avenue and Lawrence Avenue this spring means time is dwindling for a place many call home, said Diane O’Connell, a staff attorney with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
The problems that President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget would cause for Chicago extend far beyond the Meals on Wheels program that so far has received most of the attention.
As I explained in Sunday’s column, the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program that Trump would eliminate provides $1.8 million — or 20 percent — of the $8.6 million the city spends on its version of Meals on Wheels.
That’s not fake news. That’s a real cut that could severely impact a vital service that brings nutritious meals to 8,000 needy seniors a year.
But it’s also just a fraction of the city’s total expected $81 million CDBG allotment for 2017. Take away that money entirely, as Trump proposes, and you poke a painful hole in numerous other city social service efforts.
Ten days after the election, a measure to raise the sales tax a quarter-percent to fund homeless programs across Los Angeles County was declared a winner Friday with a growing margin over the required two-thirds majority.
After counting the last 55,000 ballots, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder reported Friday afternoon that the yes vote for Measure H had climbed to 69.24%.
“It’s a great day for Los Angeles,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “It’s a great day for people who have waited for something big to come and finally can see a model that can work. Now we have to make it work.”
Added to the half-cent transportation tax approved by voters in November, the measure will increase the sales tax rate to 9.5% across most of the county in July.
It is expected to raise $3.5 billion over a decade and launch what officials have characterized as the most comprehensive homelessness program ever attempted in the county.
Combined with the $1.2-billion housing bond approved by Los Angeles city voters in November, it will get 45,000 of an estimated 47,000 homeless people in the county off the streets in five years, according to predictions.
The Measure H money will provide rental subsidies for homeless people as well as case management and mental health services to help them stay housed. Also set to receive funds are initiatives that would, for example, remove homeless people from the justice system and prevent others from becoming homeless.
“Thank God for the people of L.A. County who took matters into their own hands and opened their hearts in a way that said this vote will be governed by compassion, prudence and wisdom,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.
The early declaration of victory last week by some leaders of the Measure H campaign — with almost a third of the vote still uncounted — reflected their expectation that a final pre-election push had brought out thousands of yes voters.
The county’s two major charitable organizations, United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the California Community Foundation, enlisted supporters from more than 300 organizations to reach out to voters.
Meanwhile, fundraising spearheaded by Ridley-Thomas, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor poured $3.5 million into mailing and advertising.
In a separate campaign, the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office spent $1 million for outreach including television spots that highlighted Measure H. The Board of Supervisors authorized the spending “to inform voters with a fair presentation of the facts.”
The ads, which were characterized as educational rather than electioneering, showed homeless people either in the streets or newly housed. They finished with the message: “Measure H on the March 7 ballot. LA County Homeless Initiative. Real Help. Lasting Change.”
The registrar-recorder reported that records dating back to 1902 showed that Measure H was the only revenue proposal ever attempted during a March election, when generally low turnout poses an obstacle, especially in an era of supermajority requirements.
Despite the 77% margin city voters handed the Proposition HHH bond in November, success was far from certain.
Campaign strategists warned that the low turnout expected in a March countywide election would disproportionately draw older and more conservative voters less likely to favor a tax increase.
The team that led Proposition HHH to victory had to come up with an entirely new strategy for Measure H, said Tommy Newman, who coordinated the different groups involved in the campaign.
“On the HHH campaign, we knew the voters would be there,” Newman said. “For the H campaign, we needed to make sure the right people voted and that we got the message to those people.”
The campaign mailed more than 4 million pieces of literature and advertised in newspapers, including the front page of The Times. Political strategist Steve Barkan of SG&A Campaigns said ads placed online appeared on pages viewed 11 million times.
Barkan said Measure H was polling at 65% to 66% in late polls, “but undecideds clearly broke toward a ‘yes’ vote, and supporters were more motivated to turn out to vote.”
Those voters were then targeted by mail, online and in person. To reach them in person, the California Community Foundation, which committed $300,000 to the campaign, hired California Calls, a nonprofit that organizes statewide to motivate new and infrequent voters.
California Calls worked with other organizations, including the Community Coalition in South Los Angeles, LA CAN in skid row and L.A. Voice to contact voters in targeted neighborhoods.
A combination of paid staff and volunteers made 550,000 phone calls, knocked on 10,000 doors and tracked 37,100 likely yes voters, said Ann Sewill, a California Community Foundation vice president.
For the past three months, case workers from the nonprofit organization A Save Haven Foundation have been driving through the city offering panhandlers and homeless individuals a chance to work. The five-hour shifts consist of manual labor, such as shoveling snow or picking up trash, for a cash payment of about $55.
This is hard to admit, but I have not always been empathetic toward the homeless people who live under the viaducts.
During the summer in Uptown, I would see them lounging on the grass or seated in lounge chairs while hamburgers and hot dogs cooked on a barbecue grill nearby. I convinced myself that this was where they wanted to be, carefree and without responsibility. That’s what I wanted to believe.
Then winter came. And the reality of what it means to be homeless, particularly in Chicago, was suddenly clear. I could not have been more wrong.
At the end of the season, the snow came, dumping up to 10 inches on the Chicago area Monday and Tuesday. Temperatures along the lakefront dipped below freezing and were expected to drop even lower in the coming days.
Monday evening, I drove past the homeless encampment underneath the Lake Shore Drive bridge at Lawrence Avenue once again. This time, it looked so different — damp and littered with snow.