Tell Congress to provide for the housing and health needs of people experiencing homelessness

People experiencing homelessness and facing housing instability are already suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. Many are seniors, people with disabilities and/or people with underlying health conditions, making them high-risk populations for the virus. And the federal legislation passed to date has overlooked their critical needs.

Congress must meet the housing and health needs of people experiencing homelessness and housing instability during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have the chance to provide for these communities: legislators are currently debating a stimulus relief bill that could include funding for people who need housing. But we need to act now. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to pass legislation through the chamber by the end the day today, Monday, March 23.

Email your legislator TODAY to urge them to take action on behalf of Illinois’ most vulnerable communities:

COVID-19 Response Fund

Many have reached out to learn what they can do to help people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while this response is warranted and admirable, CCH ​is joining with many other organizations in closing our office and instructing our staff to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the virus. ​​We also encourage those that are able to do the same.

The region’s health and human service organizations are experiencing a surge in demand for services from neighbors and communities significantly impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. In collaboration with the City of Chicago, The Chicago Community Trust and United Way of Metro Chicago launched the Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund to unite the funds raised by Chicago’s philanthropies, corporations and individuals to be disbursed to nonprofit organizations across the region. You can contribute here.

We are continuing to work with our leaders to ensure people experiencing homeless are included in plans to respond to this crisis. On Sunday, CCH sent these recommendations to city, Cook County, and state officials.

Financial support at this time is truly the best option for those willing to help. Supply drives would be difficult to coordinate and inefficient by comparison. Thank you all for your concern. We are truly in this together.

April and her family have hope and a new home

Five years ago, April Harris and her family had to flee their hometown, Pittsburgh.

April’s family was targeted after she asked the housing authority to put a stop to early-morning drug dealing by her home. The family moved to a new neighborhood, doubling-up with friends, but when the threats continued, they were advised to move out of state.

April’s family landed in Chicago.

“We went to the nearest police station. They took us to 10 South Kedzie,” said April, describing how her family was quickly placed in Chicago’s emergency shelter system.

That led to on-and-off stints in shelters over the next four years.

April and her husband, Greg, have chronic health issues, including Greg’s multiple sclerosis. They rely on Social Security disability income to support themselves and their two children. The family’s first six months in the Salvation Army’s Booth Lodge family shelter was followed by two years struggling to pay rent for unsubsidized apartments.

The family moved from their first apartment because Greg, who needs a walker, had difficulty using stairs. They became homeless again in fall 2017, after their basement-level apartment was deemed unsafe by a city inspector.

“We were placed at You Can Make It, a shelter on the South Side. That’s where we met Keith,” said April, referring to Keith Freeman, senior community organizer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). “We got involved right away with Keith, going to actions, working on the Fight for $15.”

The family moved after four months to another shelter in the Austin neighborhood. April grew more active with CCH while searching online for housing. She felt some pressure, knowing frequent moves impacted her husband’s health and upset the children.

April’s daughter had tested into a magnet school, so she stayed in the same school. But the moves forced her son to transfer schools repeatedly in his early elementary years.

“He didn’t understand why we kept having to move. He was like, ‘Mom, I just want to be able to stay at the same school,’” she recalled.

After 11 months in shelters, the family secured a one-year placement in a subsidized apartment. The Harris family was grateful to be housed, but they still faced instability when the temporary placement ended.

“It’s kind of scary, because that year goes by fast, and you think, ‘How can we afford this when the subsidy is up?’”

April would track prospects for subsidized, accessible housing, signing waitlists and calling to check for openings. Those efforts helped her secure a long-term subsidized apartment last May, in a new Humboldt Park six-flat managed by LUCHA.

With her family’s home secured, April blossomed as a community leader with CCH. She joined its Speakers Bureau, works part-time in the CCH office, and serves as a grassroots leader on its city housing campaign, Bring Chicago Home. April says she found her passion.

“I’ve done phone-banking. I went to Springfield. I talked to my alderman and my state representative and they’re both on board for Bring Chicago Home.

“It’s a lot of volunteering, but it’s worth it. I feel like I’m giving back and I’m taking some of my power back. It makes me stronger. It makes me feel like I made it.”

Now recruiting Chicago Marathon runners

CCH is proud to be an affiliate charity for the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, scheduled for Sunday, October 11, 2020. We are now recruiting our next Team to End Homelessness, offering a limited number of guaranteed entries to the race.

Runners who join our team before December 3, 2019 will be required to set a $1,250 minimum fundraising goal, to be raised online in conjunction with their race training. Those who join our team after December 3 will be required to set a $1,750 minimum fundraising goal.

Benefits of joining our team include:

  • Free guaranteed entry into the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon
  • Moisture-wicking team shirt
  • Race day location near the start gate, with private bag check, bathrooms, and refreshments
  • Team building events, including a pre-race pasta party
  • Virtual coaching during training months
  • Discounted in-person training
  • Team email updates
  • Personal fundraising page and fundraising support from CCH staff
  • The opportunity to support CCH’s mission to prevent and end homelessness

If interested in joining our team for the 2020 race, please contact Claire Sloss at csloss@chicagohomeless.org or complete this interest form.

Alex finds her voice

Helped by a scholarship from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, this fall Alexandria Bolling starts her freshman year at Howard University, her dream school. Alex is studying to become a teacher, another dream she has held for as long as she can remember.

But her journey has not been easy.

Originally from southeast Louisiana, Alex’s parents split when she was four, leaving her mother to raise Alex, her twin sister, and two brothers on her own. Soon after, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the family’s apartment and most of their belongings. They bounced around relatives’ homes until her mother could get them back on their feet.

“My mom was always socially conscious and demanded the best of ourselves,” Alex recalled. “She taught us to have a voice of our own.” But Alex was shy, more observant: “I liked to hear what other people had to say.”

When she was 14, Alex made the difficult choice to leave home, moving north to Evanston for better educational opportunities. Money was tight – she stayed with an aunt and seven younger cousins – but the change in academic environment proved beneficial.

It was at her new school that Alex began to speak up, and her passion for social justice was ignited. Class discussions around social issues were encouraged: “I learned what it means to fight for what’s right.” She joined the Debate Team, serving as captain her senior year.

“Debate opened my world to who I could be when advocating for others,” Alex said. She competed around the country, championing mock legislation to support youth programs. She spearheaded a group for classmates of color to share their experiences. She participated in a school walkout against gun violence.

But the summer before her junior year, financial challenges caused her aunt to be evicted from their Evanston home. Alex was forced to double-up with relatives on the far South Side of Chicago. Her commute to school topped three hours round trip, involving two buses and a train. This took away valuable study time and made getting to school on time challenging. She lost friends and her grades suffered.

“Homelessness broke my confidence,” Alex said. “It took a toll on me emotionally. I struggled to keep up a level of scholarship that I felt I was capable of.”

Despite these challenges, Alex persevered. She continued to make the honor roll. She participated in Evanston Scholars, a college readiness program. She worked as a counselor for a camp serving homeless children. And after years of struggle, she is proud to be attending an historically black university, like her mother did.

“Homelessness doesn’t have to keep you from succeeding,” she said. But support is crucial.

Alex credits her mother and her Evanston Scholars mentor for their guidance, as well as a teacher that showed empathy for her situation. “When I came to class really late, instead of scolding me, she got me caught up right away,” said Alex. “She prioritized my success and education over my tardiness.”

As a future educator, Alex seeks to do the same.

“There’s more to education than the textbooks and history lessons,” she said. “It’s a community inside a classroom.”

And her wish for her future students? “I want them to find happiness and peace, no matter what they’re going through.”

– Story by Erin Sindewald

– Photos by Claire Sloss

Bring Chicago Home: Mayor alludes to using real estate transfer tax increase for homelessness and housing, but intention and plan remain unclear

Advocates call on her to clarify her position and adopt a viable strategy

At Thursday’s budget speech, Mayor Lori Lightfoot laid out potential ways to address the city’s budget shortfall. Among the plans she presented was her proposal to raise the real estate transfer tax (RETT) on high-end properties, and immediately followed that statement by saying, “We are committed to addressing homelessness and housing instability, and putting real resources toward these problems.”

The Bring Chicago Home coalition, while heartened that she lifted up homelessness as an issue that she plans to address, is left with questions about what commitment she made, and what her plan is to turn that commitment into reality.

Continue reading Bring Chicago Home: Mayor alludes to using real estate transfer tax increase for homelessness and housing, but intention and plan remain unclear

Twelve Illinois municipalities have now repealed unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

Three Illinois municipalities voted this month to repeal unconstitutional panhandling ordinances, responding to a warning letter sent by attorneys from the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, ACLU of Illinois, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Including Chicago, 12 Illinois municipalities have repealed panhandling ordinances after receiving warning letters within the past year.

More than 75 municipalities across the U.S. have repealed after being advised by advocates working with the national Housing Not Handcuffs campaign.

Continue reading Twelve Illinois municipalities have now repealed unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

Bring Chicago Home: Advocates charge Mayor Lightfoot with breaking promise for major increase in aid to homeless; say she’s resurrecting ‘business as usual’ in city government

Lightfoot’s decision to eliminate funding for homelessness from proposed tax increase on affluent property sales breaches multiple campaign promises

By excluding funding to alleviate homelessness from a plan to raise taxes on property sales in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has broken several of the campaign promises that vaulted her into office and raised questions about whether her administration represents the departure from business as usual that she heralded in her bid to run the city, members of the Bring Chicago Home campaign said Tuesday.

Reacting to published reports that Lightfoot intends to seek approval from the Illinois legislature to increase Chicago’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) on property sales exceeding $1 million and funnel all of the money into the city’s coffers to address a budget shortfall, officials with BCH, a campaign endorsed by more than 70 organizations across the city, said Lightfoot abandoned her promise to use the same revenue source to fund relief for Chicago’s large homeless population.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Homeless advocates ‘deeply disappointed’ by Lightfoot betrayal, shift to ‘business-as-usual’ politics

Meanwhile, by eliminating support for homelessness from her plan without first seeking input from advocates on how she might be able to balance it with the need to shave the city’s budget deficit, Lightfoot strayed from her vow during the campaign to act more collaboratively than her predecessor. Beginning with promises made on the campaign trail, Lightfoot has repeatedly committed to pledge money generated from a RETT increase to fund programs that reduce homelessness.

“The Mayor has not only blatantly abandoned her campaign promise, but also the style of governing that she claimed she would usher into office,” said Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), a member of BCH. “Last month she claimed she would work with us to achieve our common goal, but she made no effort to collaborate with us before deciding within weeks to withdraw her support and cut those experiencing homelessness from her plans.  We need this Mayor to restore her commitment to creating a robust and dedicated funding stream to combat homelessness. Otherwise, she’s deserting an already marginalized population who exemplify the kind of Chicagoans she vowed to champion. And that’s just a prescription for business-as-usual in Chicago.”

While Lightfoot had said that Chicago’s burgeoning budget deficit is larger than her predecessor Rahm Emanuel had disclosed, Schenkelberg noted the city has been plagued by a structural imbalance between revenues and debt that predated the Mayoral campaign and shouldn’t absolve Lightfoot from promises she made in the context of the fiscal dilemma.

Backed by 31 aldermen who have publicly expressed support for its proposal during the current Mayoral administration, the BCH campaign has championed a pending resolution in City Council that would increase the RETT on property sales exceeding $1 million to fund reductions in homelessness and an expansion in the city’s woeful scarcity of affordable housing. That measure closely paralleled the plan that Lightfoot had advocated during her campaign.

Under the legislation, more than 94 percent of all property sales in Chicago would be exempt from a proposed increase in the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), closely echoing a concept that Lightfoot, herself, repeatedly prescribed during her campaign for Mayor.

In a June letter addressed to Lightfoot, aldermen who characterized themselves as “strong supporters of a solution to dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago” asked the Mayor to back the proposal, which would fund services and housing opportunities benefiting the more than 86,000 city residents experiencing homelessness.

“We understand that you are balancing many priorities, but your shared interest in reducing homelessness gives us hope that a plan that would finally achieve this long-sought goal is within reach,” the aldermanic letter stated.

If adopted into law, the measure will remedy a gross shortage of funds that Chicago assigns to combatting homelessness. Its current $15.5 million annual expenditure relief ranks near the bottom of the 10 U.S. cities with the largest homeless populations.

Bring Chicago Home: Majority of Chicago aldermen sign onto proposal to combat homelessness

Proposal Would Fulfill Mayor’s Campaign Promise by Increasing One-Time Tax on Sales of Properties Worth More Than $1 Million to Curb Homelessness, Expand Affordable Housing

Alderman Michael Rodriguez, (22nd Ward), speaking at a July 23 press conference at City Hall

Comprising a majority of the Chicago City Council, 27 aldermen* Wednesday joined in support of a proposal championed by the Bring Chicago Home (BCH) campaign that would reduce homelessness in Chicago with funds generated from a one-time tax increase on the small fraction of city property sales sold for more than $1 million.

Under the legislation, more than 94% of all property sales in Chicago would be exempt from a proposed increase in the city’s Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), closely echoing a concept that Lightfoot, herself, repeatedly prescribed during her campaign for mayor.

In a June letter addressed to Lightfoot, 24 Chicago aldermen who characterized themselves as “strong supporters of a solution to dramatically reduce homelessness in Chicago” asked the mayor to back the proposal, which would fund services and housing opportunities benefiting the more than 86,000 city residents experiencing homelessness. Continue reading Bring Chicago Home: Majority of Chicago aldermen sign onto proposal to combat homelessness