Homeless student advocate positions now open at 14 Chicago public schools

New positions won in the historic 2019 CTU strike will be full-time and dedicated solely to removing barriers between families and public education.

CTU Communications: The Chicago Teachers Union is pleased to share news of 18 new Students in Temporary Living Situation (STLS) advocate positions secured in last year’s historic teacher strike. Fourteen schools throughout the city of Chicago are now able to hire STLS advocates to assist Chicago Public Schools students and their families in finding the resources necessary to survive the COVID-19 pandemic and comfortably integrate into their school community.

By law, all CPS schools currently designate a staff person to serve as an STLS liaison. This position is responsible for identifying and enrolling families, managing CTA passes and removing barriers between STLS families and public education. In the past, these duties went mostly to clerks and counselors, who won stipends in last year’s Agreement that acknowledged the additional responsibilities outside of their primary CPS job classification.

The new STLS advocate positions will be full-time and dedicated solely to this work.

The schools with positions are: Clemente High School (filled), Chicago Vocational High School, Chalmers Elementary, Nicholson STEM, Fenger High School, Simeon High School, Dewey Elementary, Julian High School, Bowen High School, Howe Elementary, Gage Park High School, Parker Elementary, Beethoven Elementary, Faraday Elementary and Melody Elementary.

“With all that is going on, we realize that what once was normal is no more, and we have students who have lost family members, housing and stability,” said Lucille Thompson, a PSRP and STLS liaison at Schurz High School and member of the CTU rank-and-file bargaining team. “Having these advocates in our buildings, whose sole responsibility is to help these families adjust to this major trauma, is awesome.”

During the strike, CPS refused to bargain over any housing demands, with Mayor Lori LIghtfoot claiming that the CTU/Chicago Board of Education contract is “not the appropriate place” to address Chicago’s shortcomings in providing affordable housing. Chicago is one of the most unaffordable cities in the country, however, and needs policies to help protect working class and middle class communities that are experiencing rampant gentrification. CPS has been losing tens of thousands of students every year for the past decade, with much of that loss attributed to the city’s housing crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic will make the lack of affordable housing in Chicago even worse as CPS caregivers lose employment due to shelter-in-place orders and the economic downturn. It is going to be more important than ever that every CPS school building has a trained STLS liaison who has strong roots in their community and understands the unique needs of this segment of the student population.

“I’m certain that our STLS number will increase when this is over, and to have someone already in place to provide resources, comfort and genuine concern for our students and families as they go through this is a major asset in education right now,” Thompson added.

Mobility rates are extremely high at some schools. CPS punishes schools where attendance rates go below 95 percent, yet does not provide enough support to help those families improve attendance; and poverty is the main driver of low attendance, especially as it relates to transportation and health issues. The Union hopes these new advocate positions are a step in the right direction to change district policies that punish low-income schools that are unable to meet the same academic outcomes as wealthier schools because of housing instability.

“The STLS advocate positions are so important because there are innumerable barriers students experiencing homelessness face to access and succeed in school,” said Alyssa Phillips, education lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “The STLS advocate positions allows for a full-time staff member to dedicate time and resources to connect families with school and community supports that are vital to the educational advancement of students who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”

STLS advocate positions are now open and schools have begun the hiring process. The Union encourages all of its members and community partners to help promote these positions. For more information and to apply, search keyword “STLS” on the CPS Careers website.

Non-profit Unite to Light donates 25 solar chargers to Chicagoans living in street encampments

Shared from the Unite to Light blog

“How do we shelter in place when we are without a home?” asks Gorge, a man living in a homeless encampment in Chicago. According to a point in time count in January of this year, Gorge is one of over half a million people in the United States experiencing homelessness in 2020. About 200,000 of those people are living “unsheltered,” meaning they are living either on the streets, or have made use of other spaces not intended for human habitation.  

Gorge with his Solar Charger

And things aren’t getting better for people like Gorge: Coronavirus COVID-19 has exposed the tough realities that our homeless neighbors must face every day. Shelters are overcrowded, food and water can be hard to come by and information is scarce. Thomas, another man from Chicago, told us: “Most of the policies in the city of Chicago are made for people who have a home. When they closed the city they never took us into consideration. The libraries we usually visit are closed. We cannot use them to stay warm or charge our phone. The shelters weren’t taking any new people. All restaurants closed.  We have nowhere to wash up or use the washroom.”

For people experiencing homelessness, a cell phone is a vital tool of survival. A 2018 study found that almost 65% of homeless participants used their phones to communicate with medical personnel. Based on (this study) and (this study) we know that cell phones and technology-based programs have real potential for benefiting health and wellness for adults and youths experiencing homelessness. A cell phone is vital to make an appointment or call for emergency help. In a time when health professionals are asking people not to visit emergency rooms, a cell phone is a lifeline. 

And while COVID-19 is increasing these demands for remote health services, it is also limiting access to electricity. Without electricity, people living on the streets cannot power their phones to access services in their community. That is why we at Unite to Light have been working hard to get solar cell phone chargers into the hands of people experiencing homelessness across the US. Since March of 2020, we have donated over 500 Solar Charger & Battery Banks to organizations on the front lines — providing services to people living on the streets of Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Nashville and in our home region of Central California. 

Let us not forget the importance of cell phones in communication with family and other services. The same study above showed that over 82% of people experiencing homelessness used their phones to contact their families. 

Fay is 57 and lives in the Lawrence and Wilson encampments in the streets of Chicago. She’s been experiencing street homelessness for over two years. She is originally from Jamaica and the only family she has in the US is her adult daughter.  Fay did not have anywhere to charge her phone after the stay-at-home orders started. She was shocked and overjoyed to receive a Solar Charger so that she can now contact her daughter and let her know that she is doing well.

People experiencing homelessness often feel isolated and cut off from society, and a cell phone can provide connection to family, community and lifesaving services. With physical connection significantly curtailed in recent months, the connection provided by a cell phone is more important than ever. Community connection within encampments is also vital: Kevin, another recipient of our Solar Charger, told us about the ways in which his small community bands together to stay safe and help one another. Kevin has volunteered to use his Charger to help any other member of his tent city.

These stories have been provided by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless which worked through their community organizers and individuals like Thomas (quoted above) to get Solar Chargers into the hands of people who need them most. We are grateful for their work on the front lines of this pandemic and for their ongoing efforts to aid those experiencing homelessness everyday. In addition to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, we have donated Solar Chargers to people in Los Angeles through the USC Keck School of Street Medicine, New York with Backpacks For The Streets, Boston through the Boston Medical Center, Centerstone in Nashville and in our home region of Central California through the County of Ventura, United Way Santa Barbara and Doctors Without Walls – Santa Barbara Street Medicine

Kevin and his community will use the Solar Charger to stay in touch with their families and access services. 
Thomas helped the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless pass out Solar Chargers to others in need.

Enrollment open for CPS preschool – children from homeless families promised priority placement

Chicago families with preschool-age children can now enroll in preschool for the 2020-21 school year.

Children must be 3 years old or 4 years old by September 1, 2020 to be eligible for the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) preschool program next year. A family can apply for up to two different preschools.

Families can apply online at http://chicagoearlylearning.org They can also apply by phone, at (312) 229-1690.

CPS promises priority placement for children in families experiencing homelessness. Still, it is important to apply as early as possible to avoid being placed on a waitlist. Enrollment opened on May 21.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is available to answer questions and help families by phone with completing the application for preschool enrollment.

Call Education Attorney Alyssa Phillips at 1 (800) 940-1119 if you need assistance with preschool enrollment.

Children experiencing homelessness can be enrolled in preschool without proof of address, income, guardianship or other documents normally needed for enrollment. This includes children living in shelters, those sharing the housing of others due to loss of housing or economic hardship (“doubled-up”), or those living in other temporary living situations.

Families experiencing homelessness should indicate their living situation on the application and notify the person assisting them with preschool enrollment.

Early childhood education is a crucial component to a child’s development and future academic success. Studies show that children who attend preschool are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and stay out of the criminal justice system.

CCH advocacy for a new state budget that includes $396 million for housing assistance

By Niya K. Kelly

Director of State Legislative Policy, Equity and Transformation

Because of COVID-19, the Illinois legislative session was cut short this spring. Our legislative agenda shifted to making sure that our providers and people experiencing homelessness are equipped with the funding and services to make it through this trying and unique time.

Returning to Springfield this week, the General Assembly had a short priority list of bills to take up. These included the Fair Tax ballot measure language, voting modifications for the upcoming presidential election, and of course, the state budget for Fiscal Year 2021. Legislators approved a $40 billion state budget by early Sunday, May 24.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) advocates for multiple line items in the state budget, including Homelessness Prevention, Emergency and Transitional Housing, Permanent Supportive Housing and Homeless Youth. Our goal was to ensure no cuts to the above line items and to provide additional funding from the federal CARES Act and Coronavirus Relief Fund for rental assistance, mortgage relief, and funding for service providers.

CCH advocacy included making sure service providers:

  • could continue to decompress their shelters and house people in hotels and permanent housing,
  • provide hazard pay for their staff,
  • and, as we enter a new world, funding for expanded rapid rehousing with services for people leaving hotels so that they do not return to homelessness.

Through the advocacy of service providers reaching out to their legislators, people with lived experience, and the work of State Rep. Delia Ramirez and State Sen. Robert Peters (both D-Chicago), each line item will remain at level funding in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

We also were able to secure $396 million in funding for housing assistance, with the funds to be managed by the Illinois Housing Development Authority. The General Assembly allocated $1.5 billion to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to be used in the response to COVID-19, with $100 million allocated to the Illinois Department of Human Services.

The Budget Implementation bill provides that the Governor can direct funds to the State Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (State CURE) Fund or to the Local Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency (Local CURE) Fund for further use in accordance with the purposes authorized by the federal CARES Act. A portion of the funds appropriated for the Local CURE Support Program may be allotted to municipalities and counties based on proportionate population.

The budget allows unique funding opportunities for us to make a meaningful effort to provide people experiencing or at risk of homelessness the opportunity to become stable in permanent affordable housing with the needed services. CCH will continue to do advocacy for people experiencing homelessness and the organizations providing them with services.

Chicago Tribune: Illinois lawmakers send Gov. J.B. Pritzker a $40 billion maintenance budget that relies heavily on federal funding

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: COVID-19 outbreak at homeless shelters raises concerns for some still staying there

Hotel used to “shield” medically at-risk homeless people from virus is operating at capacity.

By Mark Brown, columnist

Robert Ewaniuk has been staying at a West Side homeless shelter operated by Franciscan Outreach for a little more than a week, during which he’s been tested twice for COVID-19 after other residents contracted the disease.

At age 54 and with several underlying health conditions including diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, Ewaniuk is considered high risk for coronavirus complications if he were to become infected.

Normally, those health problems would make Ewaniuk a candidate for a room at Hotel 166, a boutique tourist hotel off Michigan Avenue where the city has been housing some homeless people with medical needs to shield them from the virus. Continue reading Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: COVID-19 outbreak at homeless shelters raises concerns for some still staying there

New analysis shows 76,998 Chicagoans impacted by homelessness

By Sam Carlson, Manager of Research and Outreach

A new report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless shows 76,998 Chicagoans experienced homelessness in 2018, per an annual analysis by CCH that relies on the most current U.S. census data.

Though the city’s aggregate homelessness count decreased from the prior year, Chicago saw a nearly 2,000-person increase among those who lived on the street or in shelters. It is a development with troubling connotations today: The city’s shelter system is a hotspot for COVID-19 infections and homelessness is expected to climb dramatically during the worsening economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.

Read the full report.

Per our analysis, the number who experienced homelessness decreased by 4,282 people, or 5.9% from 2017. This net decrease was concentrated exclusively among homeless people in temporary living situations, also known as living “doubled-up” or “couch-surfing.” The number who doubled-up in 2018 remained massive, at 58,872 Chicagoans.

Altogether, the 2018 homeless estimate is lower than the 86,324 people tallied in the 2017 estimate, released last year. Most of the decrease is due to methodological changes in how doubled-up homelessness is defined in the CCH analysis. That leaves an amended count of 81,280 people who experienced homelessness in 2017.

While there is no single definition of homelessness, CCH has developed a model to more accurately estimate the scope of homelessness in a city. Chicago’s estimate is drawn from data compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau and the city of Chicago, and includes families, youth, and adults who must double-up, often in overcrowded and unreliable living situations. It is likely that their housing needs were left unmet, as they are generally ineligible for assistance if not living in shelters or on the street.

Many of those who doubled-up were students – children, teens, and some unaccompanied youth – who struggled to get an education without a permanent family home. In the 2018-19 school year, 16,451 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students experienced homelessness, 87.5% (14,403) of whom doubled-up. Only 11% of homeless students were served by the shelter system.

This enrollment data is collected by the U.S. Department of Education, which recognizes all forms of homelessness that children and youth might experience. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has a far more limited scope, not recognizing those who experience homelessness by temporarily living with others. It’s one reason why a city’s HUD-funded point-in-time count shows smaller homeless populations, as HUD only recognizes those who live on the street or in shelters.

By not recognizing the homeless status of those who temporarily stay with others, HUD shut out nearly 59,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness from accessing the housing support they need.

Hallazgos clave sobre la falta de vivienda en Chicago

Kluczowe ustalenia dotyczące bezdomności w Chicago

Key findings on Chicago homelessness (Simplified Chinese)

Because those in temporary living situations have little, if any, access to government assistance, it would be wrong to credit most of the drop to government spending on homeless programs. These 4,282 people were doubled-up, so they did not have access to that kind of government relief.

The only exception locally is a pilot housing program, proposed by CCH and funded by the city, that provides long-term housing subsidies to 100 homeless CPS families. The CPS Families in Transition (FIT) program has assisted about 400 children and parents since the 2017-18 school year. To secure housing assistance, city agencies assessed the most vulnerable families in six CPS schools, whether sheltered or doubled-up. After a vulnerability assessment, 59% of families that secured FIT housing had been doubled-up.

It’s clear families that double-up experience homelessness with as much difficulty as people who must turn to shelters or live on the street. It is well past time the federal government acted that way.

In the meantime, CCH is committed to making sure their stories are told.

CCH closes 5-day application period for new Mutual Aid Fund, assisting homeless and at-risk Illinois residents. Donations still accepted!


Updated May 28 – The coronavirus pandemic amplifies the hardships experienced by people who are homeless as well as those who have been homeless and risk facing it again.

Responding to pressing community need, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) created the CCH Mutual Aid Fund. The fund will provide direct cash support of up to $500 to about 300 Illinois residents in need.

During the 5-day application period, which ran May 11 – 15, over 6,000 people applied. There are funds enough to assist about 300 applicants.

CCH grassroots leaders – people who have experienced homelessness and work in partnership with CCH staff – run the fund. Leaders designed the fund and will decide which requests receive support. Grants will be dispersed by late June.

“Tragically, the homeless community has been overlooked and underserved. The COVID-19 crisis is no exception. It’s important that the Mutual Aid Fund is governed by people with lived experience because we have a unique perspective on the needs of our community,” said Edrika Fulford, a grassroots leader and founding member of the Mutual Aid Committee.

“As an organization that works to build power for people who are often pushed to the side, it is important to CCH that we create a fund run by our leaders,” added Community Organizer Alyssa Rodriguez.

The 5-day application period opened at 9 a.m. Monday, May 11. People could apply online, in English or Spanish and at any hour, through the CCH website – www.chicagohomeless.org – until it closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 15.

Applicants also could apply over the phone, at (312) 641-4148. Phone calls were answered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On the final day, May 15, calls were taken from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. If phone lines are busy, applicants can leave a message with their phone number. A CCH operator returned all calls by May 27 to help them fill out an application. Spanish-speaking operators were available.

The fund is open to residents of Illinois who are currently homeless or have been homeless in the past and at risk of becoming homeless again. Applicants must be at least 18 years old; or if they are an unaccompanied youth, at least 16 years old. Undocumented individuals and permanent residents are welcome to apply. No more than one grant per household will be awarded.

The fund will have up to $150,000 to distribute, thanks to support given by Affirm Cares Employee Foundation, Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund, Grassroots Collaborative, Homestead Affordable Development Corporation, Jay Pritzker Foundation, and over 190 individual donors.

“With over 80,000 people in Chicago experiencing homelessness, we know that this fund cannot help everyone facing hardship. But we hope that it can make a difference in the lives of those we can reach as we continue to advocate for broader systems change, putting both funding and policies in place that will end homelessness once and for all,” said Doug Schenkelberg, CCH’s Executive Director.


Chicago Tribune, Commentary: Imagine being homeless during COVID crisis. How Chicago can help.

By Dr. Evan Lyon and Brandi Calvert, MPH

At a time when staying at home has been equated with staying alive, perhaps few Chicagoans face greater peril from the coronavirus crisis than those experiencing homelessness. Then again, probably few people are more accustomed to living in crisis in the first place.

Long before the plague of COVID-19 rampaged across the city, homelessness in Chicago constituted an epidemic unto itself. And for the more than 86,000 city residents mired in its stranglehold, life was already a daily exercise in survival — it just didn’t come accompanied by the outpouring of government aid and the rush to find a cure that has arisen in response to the current pandemic.

In fact, efforts to remedy homelessness in Chicago have languished for precisely the opposite reason: a recurring scarcity of resources. So when the coronavirus buffeted the community, and Chicagoans were urged to stay home to protect their health, those experiencing homelessness were left virtually defenseless.

Indeed, homelessness in all of its configurations, from congregate shelters, to outdoor encampments, to “doubled-up” arrangements where multiple households huddle together under one roof, involves massing people in tight, dense environments that are fundamentally incompatible with the social distancing practices now considered sacrosanct in the fight against the pandemic.

To its credit, the city has recognized this danger. Last month, in announcing plans to provide safer spaces for people experiencing homelessness who are either infected by COVID-19 or at risk of contracting it, Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said, “Stopping the outbreak in Chicago’s homeless population has been one of the most challenging aspects of this response.”

To that end, the city reserved quarantine housing for people experiencing homelessness who are COVID-positive, and for a portion of those who are most vulnerable to the virus. These were important first steps. But subsequent events have demonstrated that it cannot be the last word. Recent news reports have documented a range of challenges impairing the quest to keep people experiencing homelessness safe. Not only have many shelters been compromised by rapidly escalating rates of COVID-19 infections, but due to the need to limit the normal capacity of these facilities to maintain social distancing, some people experiencing homelessness have no access to them in the first place.

Add to that a potentially catastrophic wave of foreclosures and evictions, and the current climate is dreadfully conducive to an escalation in homelessness that begets an escalation in COVID-19 infections.

Fortunately, the city has an immediate, and by some measures unprecedented, opportunity to address these emerging needs. As part of its share of new federal CARES Act coronavirus-relief funding, Chicago will receive millions of dollars in money designated for addressing homelessness.

Our strategy makes two key recommendations:

  • Allocate 40% of federal Community Development Block Grant funding to programs that provide assistance with rental, mortgage and utility payments to economically distressed households in danger of losing their homes. This would put some of the city’s skin in the game after Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveiled an effort last week to convince lenders and landlords to work cooperatively to grant concessions to tenants and homeowners who struggle to make housing payments.
  • Promote COVID-19 recovery and long-term housing prospects by designating 75% of federal Emergency Solutions Grants, a fund designated to combat homelessness, to an initiative that would place people who are experiencing homelessness into subsidized private rental units, rather than city-purchased quarantine and isolation spaces. Estimates show that this policy would cost only about one-third of what the city has invested in hotel rooms, and research has proven this model can form an effective “bridge” into permanent, stable housing for those without it.

The two measures won’t require new tax revenues or impinge on the city’s pre-existing budget — complications that are invariably cited during normal times when proposals to combat homelessness are introduced. Instead, they would channel CARES Act funds already coming to the city into programs that yield the biggest bang for the buck.

Moreover, they will allow at least some of the 86,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness to shelter safely in place not only for the duration of the pandemic, but possibly for good. As the current crisis has demonstrated in glaring terms, that’s crucial to the health and welfare of the entire city.

Evan Lyon, M.D., a doctor providing health care to people experiencing homelessness, is chief integrated health officer for Heartland Alliance Health.

Brandi Calvert, MPH, is senior director, housing operations, for the Center for Housing and Health, which provides permanent housing with services for people experiencing homelessness.

CCH joins education advocates asking Illinois to commit CARES Act education-funding to the needs of marginalized students

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has signed onto a letter that asks Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois State Board of Education to prioritize using CARES Act federal education funding to reduce racial gaps and other disparities faced by marginalized students during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

With over 25 educational advocacy organizations signed on, the May 4 letter outlines immediate priorities of an emerging coalition led by Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Chicago United for Equity, and Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education.

The new coalition is called the Partnership for Equity & Education Rights, or the PEER Illinois Coalition.

PEER IL believes that every child should have an excellent public school in their neighborhood and that the ongoing disinvestment in neighborhood public education disproportionately impacts children of color and young people living in poverty.

– Alyssa Phillips, Education Attorney

Introducing Policy Specialist Destiny Carter

Destiny Carter has joined the public policy staff at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Her work is focused on reentry and criminal justice reform and Springfield-based advocacy. We asked Destiny to introduce herself. 

Destiny Carter (Photo by Claire Sloss)

My passion for advocating for underserved communities started at a very young age. Growing up in poverty, with a single parent, and moving frequently allowed me to see a variety of trauma and situations many people with low income face.

Throughout my childhood, I witnessed and personally experienced parents working 60+ hours a week to get by, families doubling up, and families living in questionable housing conditions. I saw the impact poverty had on generations and the impossibility of economic mobility.

Finally, I witnessed first-hand the curse that poverty placed upon black and brown people, people with disabilities or mental illnesses, and the formerly incarcerated. In living through these experiences, I knew that I had to be a facilitator for change.

This drive led me to law school, where I felt that helping individuals navigate through the problematic system of criminal justice could make a meaningful impact on these communities. Nevertheless, I soon realized that even with the great efforts public defenders and civil rights attorneys made, the underlying systems of oppression lingered.

Working with attorneys in civil rights law and criminal defense, I often saw how poverty and minority status had a significant impact on an individual’s entry into the criminal justice system. Even worse, I witnessed the additional barriers and trauma that criminal justice creates when an individual finally reenters society. This sparked my passion for reentry policy.

Policy is important to me because it allows me to advocate for change in the underlying systems that influence so many people’s lives. I am excited to be apart of a great organization like CCH and advocate for legislation that targets these underlying systems to create systemic change and allows people to stand on their own two feet.

Not only is this work important for the communities I’ve been apart of, it is also personal to me. I chose this work because I want to help families like my own create stability and break generational curses. My hope is that my time at CCH will help give communities a fighting chance and change the state of Illinois for the better.