Aurora Beacon-News: Budget stalemate ‘hurting’ services for homeless

By Steve Lord

An area veteran of two tours in Afghanistan is struggling to keep himself and his family in their home.

Prayer vigil - photo by Steve Lord
People gather at a prayer vigil and protest in Aurora Thursday against the state budget stalemate, which they said is hurting the homeless. (Steve Lord)

Under normal circumstances, Neil McMenamin and the organization he directs, Hesed House in Aurora, would be able to help him. But these are not normal circumstances.

The state budget stalemate between the General Assembly and Gov. Bruce Rauner has forced Hesed House to suspend things like its Homeless Prevention Program.

“Normally, with state money, we would be able to help them stabilize their situation,” McMenamin said Thursday. “This is how direct help is being affected … it is hurting us.”

That was just one example cited Thursday at a protest and prayer vigil held by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and some of its area neighbors at Faith Lutheran Church in Aurora.

In addition to the host church and Hesed House, participating groups included: Alpha Missionary Baptist Church; Love Fellowship Baptist Church; Oswego Presbyterian Church; St. Mary Catholic Church; St. Nicholas Catholic Church; Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Trinity Church of the Nazarene.

Not only did representatives of some of the organizations attend, but so did people who support them, and some homeless and formerly homeless people.

McMenamin pointed out that in addition to the Homeless Prevention Program, Hesed House has had to merge other programs, too. As of right now, the state owes Hesed House a little more than $250,000, which McMenamin said “pays for the lights, pays for the heat” and many other things.

The organization has had to lay off about 8 percent of its workforce – most of them caseworkers for their programs.That was one of the reasons Hesed House members joined others in a bus trip to Springfield Wednesday to protest the governor’s State of the State Address.

McMenamin said the group has suggested potential solutions, in particular restoring the state income tax to its level in 2014 of 5 percent. It decreased to 3.75 percent Jan. 1, 2015. The group would also like to see the tax on corporations restored to 7 percent. It fell to 5.25 percent last year. Also, the group supports the so-called “millionaire tax” discussed last year that would have imposed an extra 3-percentage-point income tax on those who make more than $1 million a year.

Sister Rose Marie Lorentzen, of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, pointed out that in the past direct action from the people has worked. Pressure got laws passed allowing the homeless to register to vote, and making sure homeless children could attend school.

“We can do it, we have a history of doing it, and we have a call to do it,” she said.

She called on supporters of the poor and homeless to “write and write and write” letters and e-mails, and “to take buses to Springfield and talk to our legislators.”

She said the faith-based community has helped “pick up the bill” for organizations such as Hesed House.

“But that doesn’t mean we let Springfield off the hook,” Lorentzen said. “You have to let them know that you vote.”

To show how the efforts have worked, Renee, who described herself as “a survivor and a success story,” offered her story of getting divorced from an abusive spouse, losing everything and facing homelessness with her son.

At one point, she even split herself off from her son until they could get the proper situation. They were reunited in Hesed House’s Transitional Living Center, where they got their own space, but also worked as part of a community with others in the program.

She and her son now have found housing.

“Without TLC, I have no idea where I would be – in jail, I could be dead,” she said. “I would have done anything just to support my son. Having a son experiencing homelessness is devastating to any parent.”