On a Thursday night in late June, Tavarion Laquon Foster put on his best clothes — khaki pants, black loafers, black shirt buttoned almost to the top — and went downtown to celebrate his college scholarship from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Growing up, Tavarion hadn’t thought of himself as homeless. He was 6 years old when he began going to sleep at night without a bed to call his own, but in his mind, moving from home to home, and bed to bed, was just life.
That evening at the scholarship ceremony he sat in the front row, leaning forward to listen to the other winners. It felt good to be with people whose lives weren’t so different from his.
There was a young woman who’d lived in shelters and in homes without hot water. There was a young man who had to switch schools every time he switched houses. One student had moved from Louisiana to her aunt’s home in Evanston only to have the family evicted.
When Tavarion’s moment at the lectern came, he stepped forward and began with thank you’s to the coalition, to his mentor and to the woman snapping photos from one of the guest seats.
“My beautiful mother,” he told the crowd, without explaining how extraordinary it was that the two of them were in this room, and for this purpose, together.
ONE IN FIVE OF CITY’S HOMELESS ADULTS ARE EMPLOYED, NEARLY ONE IN THREE HAVE SOME COLLEGE EDUCATION
FINDINGS DEBUNK STEREOTYPES ABOUT HOMELESSNESS AND SUGGEST WIDESPREAD VULNERABILITY TO THE PROBLEM
Chicago’s hefty homeless population includes nearly 14,000 people who are working and more than 18,000 who have been to college – countering common misconceptions that anyone who collects a paycheck or pursues an academic degree is immune from one of life’s most desperate economic straits, a new report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) finds.
The analysis, drawn from data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the City of Chicago, estimates that the city’s homeless population surpassed 86,000 people in 2017, the latest year for which figures are available.
The exact tally of 86,324 represents an increase over CCH’s 2016 estimate, although much of that growth is attributed to a change in methodology that re-classifies some families to be homeless who were previously not considered homeless. The change was due to examining additional data that showed families headed by 18- to 24-year-olds were greatly undercounted. When those families are excluded from the new calculations, Chicago’s estimated homeless population grew by 1,724 people, or 2%, during 2017, CCH found.
According to the study released July 2, 21% of all homeless Chicago adults age 18 and older were employed at a job in 2017– totaling 13,929 wage-earners. Meanwhile, 28% of that same homeless population – equivalent to 18,365 people – had some college education or had obtained a degree.
Those figures underscore that Chicago’s shrinking supply of affordable housing is a widespread threat to all demographics, the report’s authors warn.
“This data shows that anyone can experience homelessness, particularly in a city where rapidly escalating rents in gentrifying neighborhoods have fueled the loss of housing options for lower-income families,” said Julie Dworkin, CCH Policy Director and principle researcher of the report. “It also should debunk common myths that homelessness is a risk only to those who don’t have job, aren’t trying to get an education, or otherwise brought their circumstances on themselves. That’s never been true, and this data proves it again.”
The report was released as Chicago aldermen have introduced a measure – advocated by a CCH-led campaign called Bring Chicago Home – that would dramatically increase city funding to combat homelessness. Bring Chicago Home would change the city’s one-time tax on the sale of properties from a flat rate to a graduated structure (the Real Estate Transfer Tax, or RETT). It would allocate much of the resulting revenues to build affordable housing and furnish more supportive services that would benefit people experiencing homelessness.
The proposal would rectify a glaring shortage in the amount Chicago dedicates to alleviating homelessness compared to other cities where the problem is similar in scope. In fact, among the 10 U.S. cities with the largest homeless populations, Chicago dwells near the bottom in its spending to curb homelessness.
The report also found that:
20,779 children were homeless, representing 24% of the estimated homeless population.
70,171 people, or 81% of the city’s estimated homeless population, were living “doubled-up,” meaning that they were taking shelter in another household due to a loss of their own housing.
22,478 people were served in the shelter system. Of those, 6,325 had been living doubled-up with family or friends at some point that year. Also, 77% of shelter residents were black, 4% other races, and 19% white and Latino, with 10% reporting themselves as Latino.
“With more than 86,000 Chicagoans embattled by homelessness, we must prioritize solutions to this massive problem, and we’re encouraged that the city’s new mayoral leadership views this is as a priority,” Dworkin said.
The majority of Chicago residents share that perspective, according to a public opinion survey conducted last year. It found that 77% of likely voters believed the city should prioritize efforts to curb homelessness. Conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research, the poll also showed that two-thirds of respondents supported a RETT increase on sales of properties worth more than $1 million to fund programs to alleviate homelessness.
CCH is grateful to Kohl’s department stores and their employees: This spring, 65 area Kohl’s employees put together toiletry and personal hygiene kits for distribution by our organizing team.
CCH organizers distributed hundreds of kits to people during their outreach in Chicago shelters and to people who live on the street.
Kohl’s also donated $11,000 to support CCH’s work!
“It’s always a pleasure to bring our teams together for a great cause,” said Nick Vanella, Kohl’s VP Regional Manager. “But we were especially excited to have the opportunity to provide hygiene kits to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless this April.
“It was a great day, with associates from 25 store locations across the Chicago area who volunteered 200 total hours to assemble these kits with basic toiletry items.
“Our event for the coalition was unique in that we secured a physical donation of supplies. Our only challenge was to find a non-for-profit with the outreach and the ability to accept such a large volume and distribute them into the right hands. A big thanks to leadership at the coalition for partnering with us for the event, and for the impact you make every day for those in need across Illinois.”
Five high school seniors have won $10,000 college scholarships awarded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) on Thursday, June 27.
CCH offers a renewable scholarship of $2,500 a year to students who succeeded in school while coping with homelessness. Our new 2019 recipients are five students living in Chicago and suburban Ford Heights and Westmont, teens who graduated from schools in Chicago, Evanston, Oak Park, and Dyer, Indiana.
The public was invited to attend the 5:30 p.m. reception and 6 p.m. awards ceremony hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 25 E. Pearson St.
CCH scholarships will assist 21 students in the coming school year. Students will attend colleges and universities across Illinois as well as in Georgia and two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Washington, D.C. and South Carolina. Also, a $500 book award is given to past winners who go on to graduate school; three awards will be given in 2019-20.
The 2019 scholarship winners are:
Alexandria Bolling, Chicago – Howard University, Washington, D.C.
An aspiring English teacher, Alex graduated from Evanston Township High School. She was active all four years on the debate team and a senior co-captain. To secure a better high school education, Alex’s mother sent her from Louisiana to live with an aunt’s family in Evanston. After the family was evicted two years ago, getting to school required Alex to make three-hour daily commutes to and from the South Side, where she doubles-up with other relatives.
“Traveling took away valuable study and homework time. By the time I got home, I would be exhausted,” said Alex – who now celebrates the scholarship and tenacity that got her into Howard, “my dream school.”
Tavarion Laquon Foster, Chicago – Stillman College, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Tavarion will attend Stillman College, the first in his family to go to college.
“I plan to become an educator, attending an HBCU, being mentored and guided by professors who may have a similar experience as mine. This will shape me to be the best teacher I can be,” he wrote in his scholarship application.
A graduate of the Instituto Health Science Career Academy, Tavarion participated in three sports, a business club, and the service club over three years, earning a 3.5 GPA. He was inspired by school-led medical missionary trips to Haiti and Columbia.
Tavarion and his brothers grew up living doubled-up in a household of 24 people, including an aunt and great-grandmother. He helps cover his expenses by working at a clothing store since his junior year.
Ja’shawn McClendon-Muhammad, Chicago – The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Ja’shawn will pursue pre-medical studies at U. of I. He graduated from the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, where he earned a weighted GPA of 4.1. He participated in Future Farmers of America, yearbook, and the vet science club.
Ja’shawn’s family struggled to stay housed, with several moves that required him to switch schools, including high schools. In his two years at the Southwest Side ag school, Ja’shawn was “always willing to help out with any of the animals we have (chickens, cattle, turkeys, alpaca, hogs, and companion animals), even if that means giving up his lunch period or staying late after school,” his animal science teacher wrote.
“Being homeless not only pushed me to succeed academically, it also pushed me personally to become better than myself and to serve a greater purpose,” Ja’shawn wrote.
Rita Miles, Westmont – Saint Louis University, Missouri
Rita graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park, where she was active in Broadcasting Club, mock trial, and the Blackfriars Guild Crew. She also worked year-round since 9th grade, juggling 15 hours a week or more for a health club and a cruise line.
Her family coped with housing instability, requiring Rita to double-up with older sisters during high school. As her housing situation stabilized, Rita’s grades rose to mostly A’s her last few semesters.
Rita is eyeing a major in social work, “hopefully following in the footsteps of my social worker. I want to be what Mr. Leece was to me: a person who cares enough to ask the right questions, not only to get an answer, but to help find the right one.”
Kaneisha Perry, Ford Heights – Trinity Christian College, Palos Heights
Kaneisha was raised in Ford Heights, long recognized as one of the poorest suburbs in the U.S. Her family coped with domestic violence while living in extreme poverty. They moved in and out of shelters and often stayed in homes without a refrigerator, hot water, or enough food.
Kaneisha won a scholarship to attend Illiana Christian High School in Dyer, Indiana – but a month into freshman year, her family had to move to a shelter out of town. So Kaneisha could continue at her new school, her Mom asked a neighbor couple who work as Christian youth workers if Kaneisha could move in with them. She stayed throughout high school, developing a close relationship with the Fajardo-Heflins.
The couple “tutored the heck out of me,” Kaneisha said. That helped boost her grades to a 3.4 GPA during junior and senior years.
After participating extensively in high school and church choirs, drama, and service clubs, Kaneisha plans to study social work and music at Trinity Christian College.
“After I graduate from college, I want to return to Ford Heights and found a performing arts program that would help keep kids active, out of the streets, and away from the hopelessness that fills our town. I want to empower kids who struggled like me and let them know that they’re loved,” she wrote in her application.
Since the CCH scholarship program began in 2004, 19 students have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 41% of students eligible to do so. Three other scholarship students (7%) earned associate or nursing degrees.
This compares well per a national study that showed just 11% of students from the lowest income bracket ($34,160 or lower) had earned a bachelor’s by age 24 (University of Pennsylvania and Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, 2016).
CCH’s scholarship program assists students throughout college: Our graduates, most of them self-supporting by age 18, average 4.5 years of study before completing their bachelor’s.
Thanks to private donors and dedicated grants to the scholarship program, CCH will award more than $425,000 to 68 students in 16 years.
The scholarship is funded by grants from the Jill l. Meinzer Scholarship Fund, Osa Foundation, Sisters of Charity, BVM, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. Private donors also designate tax-deductible gifts, small and large, that are restricted to scholarship awards.
Associated Bank has generously sponsored the 2019 awards event.
Because of a generous incentive created by Robin Lavin at the Osa Foundation, students who earn a cumulative GPA of “B” or better in college receive $1,000 for a new laptop or computer. Twenty-six students have earned this honor, including new awards to four rising sophomores.
Serving on the Scholarship Selection Committee are three former scholarship recipients: Daihana Estrada, a 2010 winner and UIC grad now attending Loyola law school; Gesenia Viviescas, a 2013 winner who won a Fulbright award to teach in Taiwan after graduating from Indiana’s DePauw University; and Kristen Lang, a 2014 winner who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools after graduating with honors from HBCU Benedict College in South Carolina.
Also serving are retired CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna; retired UIC English professor Mary Beth Rose; and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, recently retired as founding director of the shelter-based tutoring program, Chicago HOPES for Kids. Law Project Intake Specialist Christy Savellano manages the program; Organizer Alyssa Rodriguez and Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay of the development staff also serve on the committee.
The 10-member selection committee evaluates applicants using a rubric to evaluate the strength of their written applications, including short essays, as well as recommendation letters, followed by committee interviews with the semifinalists. Twenty high school seniors applied by the April deadline.
CCH has packed this summer with fun events that will support our work. Here are three upcoming fundraisers where everyone is welcome!
Saturday, July 13
Join the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Associate Board at the Fitness Formula Club, 1030 N. Clark St., #600. We’ll meet on the club rooftop for a 1-hour yoga session, 10:30 a.m. -11:30 a.m., followed by a light breakfast and mimosas.
All proceeds benefit CCH. Tickets for $20 can be purchased HERE.
In the case of extreme heat or inclement weather, class will be held later, inside the club in the main room, from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
After advocacy by our reentry coalition, the Housing as a Human Right bill passed through the Illinois State Senate by May 31, at the close of the spring legislative session.
Senate Bill 1780 creates a civil rights violation to refuse to engage in a real estate transaction based on specific components of someone’s criminal record. As part of the Illinois Human Rights Act, it will now be illegal to discriminate against a person seeking housing based on an arrest record that did not lead to a conviction, a juvenile record, or a sealed/expunged record.
SB1780 is an initiative of the Restoring Rights and Opportunities Coalition of Illinois (RROCI). RROCI is comprised of directly-impacted people, policy advocates, and community organizers from Heartland Alliance, Cabrini Green Legal Aid, Community Renewal Society, and CCH’s Reentry Project.
Grassroots leaders from RROCI advocated weekly in Springfield to push this bill through the legislature. Our leaders viewed this as a crucial effort because all too often, people are denied housing opportunities because of their records.
“The human rights bill is so important, because it creates access to fair and safe housing and stops discrimination against people with records,” said Elgina Mallett, a CCH reentry leader. “Everyone deserves a safe place to call home.”
With this bill, we hope to ensure that individuals and their families can find safe and affordable housing in their communities.
Many thanks to our bill sponsors who made this effort possible: State Rep. Curtis J. Tarver, II and State Sen. Omar Aquino (both D-Chicago).
SB1780 will allow Illinois to be in compliance with guidance issued under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The guidance states that arrest records may not serve as the basis for denying someone housing because it creates a disproportionate impact on people of color.
This legislation will go into effect on January 1, 2020. Individuals whose housing rights are violated will be able to file a discrimination charge with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
 Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Transactions. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, WASHINGTON DC 20410-0500, APRIL 4, 2016.
This May, we welcomed two new staff members to CCH’s legal and public policy staff. We asked Arturo Hernandez and Samuel Carlson to introduce themselves.
I am excited to return to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, especially in the role as a staff attorney with the Law Project. I previously worked at CCH as a Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) intern, and then I returned to CCH for a one-year law fellowship shortly before I graduated from law school in 2012.
After serving as a law fellow, I worked as an attorney at the Chicago Legal Clinic, Inc. (CLC) for a little over six years. At CLC, I mainly worked with pro se litigants who were involved in the mortgage foreclosure process. I provided legal consultations to the pro se litigants, apprising them of their legal rights and options in the mortgage foreclosure process. I also provided direct representation to clients in mortgage foreclosure cases in the Circuit Court of Cook County.
I was born in Chicago and I have lived on the Northwest Side of Chicago for most of my life. Both of my parents, however, are immigrants from Mexico. Having the ability to speak Spanish has not only been a valuable asset in my work but has also been helpful in bonding with my family. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and encouraged me to follow a path of helping others. After graduating from high school, I served in the United States Army.
As a law student at the John Marshall Law School (JMLS), I was a clinical student at the JMLS Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic. As a disabled veteran myself, working with veterans was an extremely rewarding experience. As a law student at JMLS, I was also a clinical intern at the JMLS Fair Housing Clinic.
Outside of work I enjoy volunteering in the community. I serve on the Housing & Land Use Committee of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA). I am also currently on the Board of Directors of LSNA.
As an attorney with the Law Project of CCH, I believe that I will be able to make a significant impact in the lives of people who are homeless or facing housing instability.
I am thrilled to join the policy and advocacy team! I am the Research and Outreach Manager, a new position that includes working in the business and faith communities. Before joining CCH, I worked at LAF (Legal Assistance Foundation) in their Housing Practice Group. I provided court support and housing advocacy for Cook County residents facing housing legal matters. This work was funded by the Chicago Department of Public Health.
I am currently a member of the Chicago Area HIV Integrated Services Council (CAHISC). This community-elected planning body provides guidance on the allocation of funding to HIV prevention, care, and housing services in Chicago and surrounding collar counties. I am also involved in community housing coalitions and working groups, including the Midwest Harm Reduction Roundtable, Housing Locators Working Group, and the HIV Housing Task Force.
I graduated with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from DePaul University, with a specialization in international public management. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in peace, justice, and conflict studies from Goshen College in Indiana. My academic focus was displacement and it has included study in Cambodia and Palestine.
This week marks the end of our lawsuit, Smith v. City of Chicago. We secured a favorable settlement on behalf of two clients who once lived on Lower Wacker Drive, thanks in huge part to the hard work of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym, Ltd., which co-counseled the case with the Law Project at CCH.
Since 2015, this is the third settlement CCH has reached with the city of Chicago over its mistreatment of homeless people who live on the street, violating the Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights. All three cases were co-counseled by CCH and the Hughes Socol law firm.
In the summer of 2016, former CCH client Renard Parish brought a couple into our office who had all their property thrown away by city workers on Lower Wacker. Renard had been through the same thing: We represented him in our first settlement with the city (Bryant v. City of Chicago).
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and our state network applaud the growing momentum for a fair tax system from the Illinois Senate and House Revenue and Finance Committees this week.
As the fair tax amendment is brought to the House of Representatives floor, we urge every representative to vote yes to put the amendment on the ballot. Illinois residents deserve the opportunity to vote on whether they want a fair tax.
A fair tax will allow for higher rates for higher incomes, lower rates for struggling households at risk of becoming homeless, and help Illinois generate the revenue it needs for addressing the lack of affordable housing, expanding emergency shelters and preventative programs, and building racially equitable communities by helping ensure the wealthy pay their fair share.
The family’s excitement soon turned to dread. Baggett owed $300 for each child to cover graduation fees. She found out about it weeks ago when the children’s teacher sent home a flyer outlining the fees along with a handwritten note to “verify that these graduation fees” were owed.
The teacher should have included another important piece of information: By law, public school fees, including the costs of graduation ceremonies, must be waived for families who are homeless. Additionally, fees must be waived for kids who are eligible for the federal free lunch and breakfast program. Many school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, waive fees for students who pay reduced prices for lunch and others who live in poverty.
Too many teachers and school administrators across Illinois don’t know about these rules or ignore them. They lead parents to believe that their children won’t be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies if they don’t pay the fees.
Baggett has hit hard times and her family is homeless. She was under the impression that her daughter and niece couldn’t participate in graduation if she didn’t pay the fees. Eventually, she sought assistance from the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which assisted her in getting a fee waiver from the school.
But she still isn’t feeling any sense of relief. The school has asked for more money to cover a graduation trip and luncheon.
“I don’t understand,” she says.
During graduation season, too many families believe they have to decide between covering their rent or paying school fees so their children can be part of graduation ceremonies. But it is against the law to punish a child in any way over unpaid fees if the family can’t afford them. And make no mistake, barring a child from graduation, prom or a Great America trip over unpaid fees is punishment.
It isolates kids from their classmates. It shames them.
Another parent I spoke with, a single mom, said a staff member at Hyde Park Academy High School told her that her son could not participate in that school’s graduation unless she paid fees he had accumulated over four years at the school. She had a bill for $848.
The mom, who asked that her name be withheld, said that after she lost her job she couldn’t keep up with the school’s fees. She said she asked a school administrator if she could get financial assistance but the administrator said no. I reached out to the school’s principal, Antonio Ross, but he didn’t return my call or email.
The woman turned to Google for help and came across the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The organization’s law department specializes in advocating for homeless students and others who live in poverty. A lawyer sent a letter explaining the parent’s situation, and the matter was quickly resolved.
“Schools are usually responsive once they get a letter,” the lawyer, Alyssa Phillips, told me.
Ninety-six percent of the students at Hyde Park come from low-income families, according to Chicago Public Schools. I’m guessing many of those students qualify to have their fees waived. Many families probably don’t know it.
Hyde Park charges students annual fees of $200 for books, lab fees, computer software and other supplies. Families also pay $15 for each school uniform shirt, $20 for a gym uniform and $40 for a cell phone locker. Public school can be pretty expensive. It’s easy to see how a family of modest means could have trouble keeping up.
Each year around this time, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless fields dozens of calls from parents who are broke and worried their children will be barred from graduation over unpaid fees.
Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the coalition’s Law Project, told me there are several schools that have had multiple cases of kids needing assistance for fee waivers in the last two years, including Hyde Park Academy, Kenwood High School, South Shore International High School, Morgan Park High School and Wells High School. The organization also handles cases from students at suburban schools.
Kenwood’s information sheet for Class of 2019 events says, “All existing school fees must be paid before any payments for senior activities will be accepted.” There’s no mention of waivers.
Here’s a reminder to every school: If you’re going to hit parents with invoices or price lists, whether it’s at the start of the school year or before graduation, include a note telling them that if they can’t afford the fees, they should seek a waiver.
Then follow through and help them out.
Marlen Garcia writes a weekly column and is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.