By Jim Picchetti, Senior Organizer of CCH’s State Network
Five years ago, a perfect storm challenged the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to start the State Network, now working in 11 suburbs and downstate communities.
Federal funds from the stimulus package were drying up. Legislative allies told CCH it was more difficult to keep homeless issues a priority in Springfield. And our partners were telling CCH that no one was building a strong, unified voice for homeless people outside of Chicago.
At the time, Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration had proposed cutting FY11 state funds for emergency and transitional housing programs by 52%, to fill a gap left by decreased funds from the federal stimulus package. In response, CCH mobilized hundreds of homeless grassroots leaders to go to Springfield, including 60 leaders mobilized by the State Network, fighting off the cutbacks.
Six years later, in FY16, Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration proposed more drastic cuts to all state funded homeless shelters and supportive programs to balance Illinois’ state budget. CCH’s State Network responded:
* Outreach to 1,738 people during the year mobilized 239 leaders to advocate in Springfield for a state budget that fully funds homeless shelters and programs.
* Partnering with the Responsible Budget Coalition and the Grassroots Collaborative, we organized actions in Springfield and Chicago to lift up the stories of impacted families and service providers.
* Engaged faith leaders and congregational partners via a prayer vigil and on a Bolingbrook TV show, Bridging the Gap, calling for an end to the budget crisis.
Our leaders were relieved to see an emergency funding plan enacted by June 30, while recognizing it is not a solution. We look forward to advocating for a full state budget and progressive revenue when legislators return to work in November.
Also this past year, the State Network co-founded the DuPage Homeless Alliance, working to reduce housing discrimination in west suburban Naperville. Our DuPage coalition succeeded in getting Naperville’s City Council to vote 5-4 earlier this month for an ordinance that bars landlords from discriminating against tenants who use government housing vouchers.
We also work with InterFaith Action of Evanston to increase funding for affordable housing in the north suburbs.
Active in 11 communities, the State Network also organizes in Aurora, Belvidere/Boone County, Bolingbrook, Elgin, Maywood, Rockford, Romeoville, Springfield and Waukegan/Lake County.
Our organizing is assisted by two interns, Stefano Medansky from Zion and Emmie Kearns from Aurora University. Stefano was formerly homeless due to untreated substance abuse and mental illness. Since connecting with the proper programs in Lake County, Stefano has greatly excelled as an effective and well-known community leader. Emmie began her internship in August, succeeding Christy Savellano in working with Aurora University students to address student homelessness on campus and within Aurora.
Thanks to the hundreds of members of the State Network for their hard work this past year, especially Hesed House in Aurora and the Lake County Department of Health. Both sent motivated and passionate clients, staff and volunteers to advocate against the state budget crisis throughout the year.