Chicago shelter beds at 98 percent capacity during blizzard

About 4,000 shelter beds in Chicago were at 98% capacity for the past two nights, including the night of the Feb. 1-2 blizzard, Mayor Daley’s administration said Thursday.

At a post-blizzard press conference, city officials reminded Chicagoans to call “311” if they need to request a well-being check for a neighbor or an apparently homeless person. Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Mary Ellen Caron also said more shelter beds could be accessed if they were needed.
Chicago Public libraries will reopen Friday, but six city-run warming centers are open across Chicago, including the 24-hour warming center at 10 South Kedzie. Other centers are located at 4740 North Sheridan Road; 4345-47 West Armitage Avenue; 4314 South Cottage Grove Avenue; 845 West 69th Street; and 8759 South Commercial Avenue.
Homeless outreach teams are reaching out to people who are chronically homeless, and the Salvation Army has assisted in serving people, city officials reported.
In the suburbs, residents should call their police department’s non-emergency phone number if a well-being check is needed.
– Anne Bowhay, Media 

CCH moves into temporary office Jan. 25, thanks to the Merchandise Mart

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is moving into a temporary office next week, thanks to office space generously donated by the Merchandise Mart Properties and its president, Christopher Kennedy.

“The generosity shown by Mr.Kennedy and the Merchandise Mart staff has been a great help to us,” said CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna.

CCH will resume work in a 9th floor office at the Merchandise Mart on Tuesday, Jan. 25. CCH staff will be located in Suite 941 for two to three months, until CCH can reopen its South Loop office or relocate to a permanent new office site.

CCH was displaced by damage from a Dec. 30 fire in the restaurant that was located below its rented, 2nd floor office in the South Loop.

Meanwhile, mail should be sent to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, P.O. Box 3255, Chicago, IL 60654. Mail sent to the former South Wabash address will be forwarded as well.

Phones were temporarily disconnected this week as CCH finalizes the move-in, but calls will be answered as usual by Tuesday morning. The phone number will remain (312) 435-4548.

– Anne Bowhay, Media

Chicago Tribune: Prostitution court opens in Cook County

January 17, 2011

By Serena Maria Daniels, Tribune reporter

Despite dozens of arrests while working the West Side as a street prostitute, Leeanna Majors says she usually spent no more than a few days at a time in custody.

Time after time, she quickly returned to West Madison Street to continue to sell her body for money.

“I wasn’t given any options, so I stayed with the ones that I had,” said Majors, now 56, who only quit the trade five years ago after more than three decades on the streets.

Now Cook County court officials hope a new pilot program will help some longtime prostitutes get the help they need to get off the streets — and stay off.

At first, a limited number of women will be offered treatment and counseling as part of an intensive months-long effort, much as courts have done in recent years for drug addicts, the mentally ill and military veterans who have committed crimes.

The once-a-week courtroom opens its doors Friday in the Criminal Courts Building to 25 women who have a long history of arrests and are currently charged with felony prostitution.

“She has to want to change her life,” Associate Judge Rosemary Grant Higgins, who will be heading the specialized court, said of the women.

Those who opt to take part will plead guilty to the felony charge, be sentenced to 2 years of probation and sign a contract promising to complete whatever treatment and social services experts believe are needed to end their ties to prostitution.

The women will be jailed for at least 90 days while they are evaluated for drug, alcohol or other problems and given a chance to stabilize from substance abuse or emotional trauma.

“A lot of them come to us so sick,” said Debbie Boecker, executive director of the sheriff’s Women’s Justice Services treatment facility at Cook County Jail.

Depending on the extent of the problems, the women might go to inpatient facilities outside of jail for more intensive treatment or be placed in subsidized housing for at least a year “to get away from the trade,” Higgins said.

The women can also receive assistance with education, job counseling, health care needs, child custody and other issues.

In addition, the women will be matched up with former prostitutes who will serve as mentors and share how they were able to leave the business.

Officials said the specialized court shouldn’t add to county expenses because they plan to staff the courtroom with prosecutors, public defenders and probation and sheriff’s officials already assigned to the courthouse, and the many services would be provided by existing nonprofit organizations.

Court officials hope the pilot project might someday replace the revolving-door system that most prostitutes experience, sometimes for years.

Currently, many prostitutes amass several pages of arrests on their rap sheets before they might be charged with a felony offense — and even then they often serve very little time in prison, according to court officials.

According to records supplied by the Circuit Court, about 3,900 suspects — the vast majority women — were convicted of felony prostitution offenses over the last decade. An analysis of the records by the Tribune shows the offenders were 35 years old on average.

Women in the sex trade often share a common background.

Many were physically or sexually abused in their youth, addicted to drugs or turned to prostitution because of homelessness, said Jody Raphael, a senior research fellow at DePaul University College of Law who has interviewed Chicago prostitutes and pimps for research into the sex business.

Huffington Post: Not-So-Sweet Home Chicago: A Report from the City Council

January 17, 2011

By Joe Moore, Chicago Alderman

The first City Council meeting of the year consisted almost entirely of routine matters — resolutions, tributes, and appointments, with no debate… that is, until the closing moments. The topic at hand was affordable housing and the legislation to address the issue is known as the “Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance.” Few issues are as important to me as the availability of decent, safe housing for all, regardless of income. I have supported and co-sponsored the proposed ordinance from the beginning, but as the latest City Council meeting illustrates, its passage has been anything but easy.

First, though, what is the Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance? Quite simply it’s an ordinance that would require the City to designate an amount equal to 20 percent of all Chicago’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to build, preserve, or rehab housing to be affordable to lower-income families and individuals. Most of the housing would be rental, but for-sale homes could also be included.

According to the Chicago Rehab Network, thirty percent of renters in Chicago pay more than half their monthly income for housing. Yet TIF funds, which total around $500 million a year, are rarely used to address their needs. Instead, historically, only about four percent of TIF funds have been allocated for development of affordable housing.

By designating 20 percent, around $100 million each year would be available to increase housing opportunities for low-income residents across the city. Not only would this amount provide needed affordable housing for individuals and families, but it would help the City acquire and turn around foreclosed properties that have proliferated in every community in the city.

The Sweet Home Chicago Ordinance languished in committee until December when we achieved a major victory and convinced a majority of the committee members to vote to approve the measure and send it to the full Council. The City Council vote on the ordinance was deferred at the December meeting through a parliamentary maneuver.

This month, the ordinance’s lead sponsor, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), provided notice the day before the January City Council that he intended to call the matter for a vote. But as he rose at the end of the Council meeting to speak on the proposal, he was interrupted by Ald. Ed Burke, (14th) who declared that Ald. Burnett had not given the City Council sufficient notice of his intention to call the ordinance for a vote. Although 24-hour notice complied with City Council rules, Ald. Burke argued that the State of Illinois’s Open Meeting Act required notice 48 hours in advance.

This was clearly parliamentary stalling on the part of Ald. Burke and I immediately rose and strenuously objected. The Sweet Home Chicago advocates and I had done our homework and found numerous past instances where Ald. Burke himself had provided less than 48 hour notice before calling an ordinance for a vote. But Ald. Burke and Mayor Daley–as is often the case–did not agree with me, and having the final word, they shut down the meeting with Sweet Home Chicago waiting another month to be debated.

Of course, the disagreement wasn’t about 24 vs. 48 hours. It was about affordable housing and who is in favor of providing more and who is against. I don’t pay lip-service to the issue, but instead have consistently worked with federal and state agencies, the City, foundations, religious institutions, community organizations, and directly with landlords to provide quality affordable housing in our community. Diversity is what our ward is about, and we want all our neighbors to live in decent housing that doesn’t impose a financial hardship.

Not every self-proclaimed affordable housing plan is reasonable or workable, but Sweet Home Chicago presents a way to make affordable housing a greater reality for the entire city and would help to build and preserve needed housing in dozens of wards, including the 49th.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 9. Sweet Home Chicago will be up for its vote. You can count on me to give you a ringside seat to the proceedings.