Formerly homeless tenant sues, class action challenges collection of unlawful attorney’s fees

Complaint contends property managers and debt collectors unlawfully seek attorney’s fees when evicting tenants, in violation of Chicago’s landlord-tenant ordinance.

Chicago – A formerly homeless tenant filed a federal class action lawsuit Friday against Draper & Kramer, Inc., a property management company, and IQ Data, Inc., a debt collector.

Plaintiff Yasmine Lamar is represented by attorneys from the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and the National Consumer Law Center. They argue on behalf of a class that Draper & Kramer sought unlawful attorney’s fees in connection with her eviction and that IQ Data sought to collect those fees in violation of state and federal consumer protection laws.

Chicago’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance prohibits landlords from charging attorney’s fees in connection with an eviction, yet Ms. Lamar alleges she was charged nearly $500 in fees. Ms. Lamar also alleges that the unlawful debt was reported to credit bureaus, damaging her credit.

The lawsuit alleges that this practice is widespread and could impact hundreds of tenants.

“Unlawful fees, like the ones charged by the defendants, make it that much harder for Chicago tenants to access and maintain stable housing,” said Mary Frances Charlton, a CCH attorney representing Ms. Lamar.

“Some former tenants may have paid attorney fees they don’t owe as a result of this unlawful practice,” said Charles Delbaum, a senior staff attorney also representing Ms. Lamar for the National Consumer Law Center.

Ms. Lamar described how the alleged collection practices impacted her life, saying that debt collectors “have called me from numerous numbers after being blocked, telling me that I always have excuses for not paying my debt, even though I don’t owe them attorney’s fees. This has made a very stressful time in my life much worse.”

Ms. Lamar and the class are seeking actual and punitive damages for what is alleged to be widespread violations of consumer protection laws.

 

State, DuPage County will not enforce panhandling law as lawsuit moves forward

Illinois State Police and the DuPage County States Attorney’s Office have agreed to stop enforcing a state law prohibiting roadside panhandling in Illinois while a lawsuit challenging the law moves forward.

Clients Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons filed the lawsuit in August 2019, represented by the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), ACLU of Illinois, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin.

State police and the DuPage states attorney’s office agreed to a preliminary injunction, filed Jan. 14 by U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman in Chicago. Under the injunction, the agencies may not enforce a section of a state statute that bars asking for money from people in vehicles during the duration of the litigation.

“For now, our clients and many others will be able to exercise their First Amendment right to ask for help without interference from the state police,” said Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU, one of the lawyers in the case. “In the long term, we hope that the court agrees with us that this statute is unconstitutional and may not be enforced at all.”

Mr. Duimiak and Mr. Simmons sued after they were punished for asking for help when they panhandled in suburban Downers Grove. The men stood on a raised median strip seeking donations from people in vehicles stopped at the intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads.

Both men were charged under an Illinois statute that makes it a misdemeanor to stand on a median to solicit contributions, employment, business, or rides from passing vehicles. The statute does not prohibit other interactions with drivers and passengers, such as gathering petition signatures or distributing leaflets. It allows municipalities to exempt certain charities from the law, even as local police enforce it against individuals who ask for money for their own use.

A similar Downers Grove ordinance was rescinded shortly after the two men named the village in their lawsuit.

“Our clients were ticketed for panhandling when it was cold outside and they needed money to seek shelter,” said CCH Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell. “They were charged fines they couldn’t be expected to pay and one had to spend a night in jail because of a ticket. We hope this will prevent others from being prosecuted for asking for help.”

Staff Attorney Arturo Hernandez co-counsels the case for CCH.

For more information, contact:

CCH Community Lawyer Diane O’Connell

diane@chicagohomeless.org

 

ACLU of Illinois

Edwin Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy

eyohnka@aclu-il.org

 

Introducing Special Projects Organizer Claudia Cabrera

This month Claudia Cabrera was named Special Projects Organizer, managing the work of our Speakers Bureau and a creative writing outreach program, Horizons. We asked Claudia to introduce herself.

My passion for social justice comes from my lived experience as a Latinx immigrant female and the struggles I have witnessed through my community experience.

Claudia Cabrera
Portrait by Claire Sloss

At a young age I witnessed my parents risk their lives in hopes of a better future for their children. Chasing the American dream, they left behind everything they owned and everyone they loved in Mexico.

I don’t recall a time that my parents did not work multiple jobs. They still found themselves struggling to make ends meet.

We experienced homelessness many times, doubling up with relatives in order to live adequately. My parents lived in fear of being deported, so they avoided reaching out for help or resources. Education was extremely important to my family, but higher education was never talked about because it seemed financially out of reach.

In 2012, after a close family member passed away from an aggressive case of cancer, it made me re-evaluate my life path. I decided to pursue my education. I enrolled in college classes at St. Augustine while attending GED night classes. In 2018, graduating as valedictorian, I completed my bachelor’s degree in social work. I decided to continue my educational journey.

After a challenging but fulfilling year, I finished my master’s in social work (MSW), graduating with highest honors from Dominican University. Pursuing higher education completely altered my frame of mind and highlighted the importance of advocacy.

It was during my education that I learned about community organizing through an internship with the CCH Reentry Project. I worked hands-on with people and was able to see the development of grassroots leaders, from beginning to end.

I also learned that grassroots leaders are already equipped with the tools to make a change. My role as an organizer is to provide guidance and support. I’m excited to continue this journey as I coordinate the Speakers Bureau and Horizons. Together with our leaders, we will raise awareness about homelessness in different communities.

CCH champions a complete census count

With the 2020 Census almost here, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is helping ensure that homeless children, youth, and adults across Illinois are counted. This includes offering new CCH outreach materials aimed at informing those experiencing homelessness.

As one of 42 partner organizations with Forefront’s IL Count Me In 2020 program, CCH is providing outreach and education to support a fair and accurate count among hard-to-count communities.

Our message? People experiencing homelessness count, too!

As part of this initiative, CCH organizers and attorneys are providing census education at shelters, schools, drop-in centers, and events across Chicago in the months leading up to Census Day on April 1, 2020. This includes targeted outreach to homeless families, students, unaccompanied youth, and single adults; promoting the census to shelter providers; and distributing outreach materials. Between now and March 2020, we anticipate educating about 750 homeless people and 850 service providers as well as distributing more than 7,000 census-related handouts.

Our focus? To emphasize why a complete count is critical and inform people how to participate if they’re homeless.

“I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that our people step up and our counted,” said Gloria Davis, CCH’s Census 2020 project manager. “Past undercounting of people who are homeless is one of the reasons we have such a shortage of services for our community. We are hoping to change that.”

The U.S. Census Bureau invites most households to respond through the mail, but the process looks different for those without a permanent roof over their heads. To make sure this hard-to-count group isn’t overlooked, CCH staff designed census outreach materials tailored specifically for people experiencing homelessness.

A fact sheet covers all the basics — what the census is, when it’s happening, and why it matters. It also outlines the steps a homeless person can take to make sure they’re counted, whether they are living in a shelter, on the street, or doubled-up with a friend or relative.

Two other new pieces of outreach material — a poster as well as a palm card — provide a similar census overview for people experiencing homelessness.

Help us make sure all Illinoisans are counted in the 2020 Census, no matter their housing status:

Questions about the census? Contact Gloria Davis, Census 2020 Project Manager, at gloria@chicagohomeless.org or (312) 641-4140.

– Erin Sindewald, Development Manager

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.”

Derrick is on track with a new job – and soon, a home

Derrick Lyons is grateful for a life and career that are on track after years of being homeless.

He credits rediscovering his faith and his voice, including his volunteer work as a community leader with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Derrick Lyons at The Hatchery Chicago

“I thought it was the end of the road,” Derrick says of life two years ago. “I was so depressed… I took a big look at myself and thought you know what, something has to change.

“I started going to church, and then I joined CCH, where there are people fighting to end homelessness. That kind of encouraged me, until I started working again.”

In April, Derrick landed a position as kitchen facilitator at The Hatchery, a new food and beverage business incubator on Chicago’s West Side. He applied after asking for a referral from the men’s shelter where he lived, Breakthrough Urban Ministries.

With an associate degree from Malcolm X College and certificates in culinary and kitchen sanitation, Derrick finally landed the full-time job opportunity he’d trained for. Now living with a cousin, helping to care for her ailing mother, Derrick hopes to overcome community reentry barriers to secure an apartment of his own.

Derrick first experienced homelessness after his family lost their home to foreclosure over a decade ago. Unable to secure full-time work, he could not afford housing.

“I was going to interviews with a big old suitcase. I would make an excuse, saying I had been on a trip, but it was all my clothes,” he recalls.

Derrick last became homeless after fire destroyed his sister’s house five years ago. Over the years he has lived in parks, under a bridge, in abandoned buildings, rode the El overnight, and stayed in nightly shelters. He sometimes doubled-up with friends or relatives, offering to cook and clean in exchange for a place to sleep.

“People will let you stay with them maybe three months, then they ask you to leave,” he says.

Last year, Derrick was encouraged by another Breakthrough resident to meet CCH Senior Organizer Keith Freeman. Through shelter outreach, Keith offers information to people experiencing homelessness, organizing those who are interested to work with him on the Bring Chicago Home housing campaign.

“We were talking about housing and I heard about how Chicago Coalition for the Homeless marched in the Fight for $15. I went to the first meeting and I was like, ‘You got me.’ I didn’t look back,” says Derrick, now a member of the campaign’s Grassroots Leadership Committee.

Helped by service programs that assist adults facing reentry issues, Derrick recently secured court expungement for an old record. He also earned a scholarship to Chicago State University. Working for a degree in health information administration, Derrick commutes two hours each way to attend classes two nights a week. And at his West Side church, Derrick is excited to have been chosen for a solo in the fall choir concert.

“I feel great about myself now,” he says, smiling.

“At 57, I feel that it’s been a long time coming. I finally landed a break. Life is finally changing.”

– Anne Bowhay, Media

– Photos by Allison Williams Photography

 

Homeless Memorial, Dec. 17: Remember their names – gathering to remember homeless Chicagoans who died in 2019

WHAT

For the tenth year in a row, a coalition of Chicago-based homeless service providers and advocacy agencies will hold an interfaith candlelight vigil and memorial service in the sanctuary of Old St. Patrick’s Church to remember Chicagoans who died without a home.

The 750-seat church fills for this hour-long service, held to remember by name the 66 homeless people who died this past year in Chicago. The service includes a performance by the Harmony, Hope & Healing choir.  Families, youth, and adults experiencing homelessness will be hosted at a dinner prior to the event.

WHEN

Tuesday, December 17, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

WHERE

Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams Street, Chicago

WHY

Based on most recent census data, 86,324 Chicagoans experienced homelessness in 2017, per an analysis by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Eighty-one percent lived doubled-up in the homes of others, often in overcrowded conditions. Our city’s homeless community included 34,870 children and adults living in families. Each year, an estimated 2.5 million to 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

WHO

This service is affiliated with National Homeless Persons Memorial Day, one of more than 150 events across the U.S. organized by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Chicago’s service is supported by:

  • Ignatian Spirituality Project works to end homelessness by providing Ignatian retreats to men and women who are homeless and in recovery.
  • Chicago Coalition for the Homeless organizes and advocates to prevent and end homelessness, based on the belief that housing is a human right in a just society.
  • Harmony, Hope & Healing offers creative, therapeutic and educational music programs, providing emotional and spiritual support to homeless and underserved women, men and children in the Chicago area.
  • Old St. Patrick’s Church extends hospitality to all that find the church on their path, and to serve the life and work of the laity in the world.
  • Franciscan Outreach serves more than 7,600 men and women who are experiencing homelessness each year, by providing healthy meals, safe shelter, and comprehensive services.

Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago homeless memorial to honor pair who became volunteer leaders

Three women with disabilities sue supportive housing program for discontinuing rent payments

Facing imminent homelessness, three women with disabilities sued a supportive housing program for formerly homeless people after the program stopped paying their rent.

The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Legal Aid Chicago allege a failure to provide due process and reasonable accommodations of their disabilities in a case that was filed November 27 in state court.

Kenora Roberts, Carissa Marshall, and Janice Johnson all have disabilities and are low-income, making it impossible for them to secure housing on their own in the private housing market. For example, Ms. Marshall, who lives with her two minor children, suffers from a traumatic brain injury and is permanently disabled as a result.

The women’s rent was subsidized by defendant Human Resource Development Institute (HRDI). Through no fault of Ms. Roberts, Ms. Marshall and Ms. Johnson, HRDI stopped making rental assistance payments in August 2019. HRDI’s failure to pay rent put the women at risk of eviction and facing homelessness yet again.

Ms. Johnson and Ms. Roberts landlords have both filed eviction actions against them. Ms. Johnson’s eviction case is set for trial on December 9.

Ms. Roberts told the Chicago Tribune that the prospect of being homeless again “feels even lower than what it was (before), because… you did everything that you were supposed to do.”

Chicago Tribune, Dec. 4: Formerly homeless people file lawsuit against Chicago agency after it suddenly stopped helping them

HRDI failed to provide sufficient notice and review before stopping the rental assistance payments, failed to transition the women to other supportive housing programs and failed to make reasonable accommodations of their disabilities. In a previous interview with the Tribune, HRDI blamed a loss of HUD funding.

“This is a systemic failure and all relevant agencies should work together to take responsibility and prevent our clients from becoming homeless again,” said Legal Aid Chicago Supervisory Attorney Michelle Gilbert.

“At this time of year, with cold weather approaching, we hope this case will prevent vulnerable people with disabilities who previously experienced homelessness from losing their housing yet again,” said Law Project Associate Director Beth Malik.

The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Plaintiffs filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and for preliminary injunction Wednesday and will be in court on December 12.

– Patricia Nix-Hodes, Director, The Law Project

CBS Chicago, Sept. 23: Chicago housing assistance program loses federal funding, puts people’s housing situations in jeopardy

 

 

Giving Tuesday: Please help us meet a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $50,000

Dec. 4 UPDATE:

With thanks to 391 generous donors, CCH exceeded its match challenge, with gifts totaling $60,184. 

Many thanks to all!

We invite you to be a part of our #GivingTuesday effort this year!

We are grateful that this Giving Tuesday, December 3, all donations to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000 total. This match is made possible by a generous challenge grant from an anonymous donor family.

Now in its 8th year, Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving backed by the power of social media.

Your support with a tax-deductible gift of any size will help us reach critical fundraising goals – supporting vital work to prevent and end the homelessness that impacts thousands of Chicago area families, youth and adults.

Supporters are asked to share our #GivingTuesday message on social media — or consider joining those who are helping us as “Giving Tuesday Ambassadors.”

Sign up by going to www.chicagohomeless.org/giving-tuesday and clicking the “Create my own fundraising page” link. You will be sent an email with a link to edit your goal, photo, and bio. Then you’re all set to share your link with friends and family on Giving Tuesday.

CCH is the only non-profit in Illinois solely focused on advocacy for and with people experiencing homelessness.  Rated a 4-star charity by Charity Navigator, CCH is among 77 U.S. organizations on Charity Navigator’s “Perfect 100” list for their scores on financial health and accountability.

CCH also holds top rankings from Guidestar and is a 2019 Great Nonprofit, based on online endorsements from volunteers and donors.

Please contact Director of Development Michael Nameche with any questions.

National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week: Mother and 18-year-old son share why they’re grassroots leaders

During National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, CCH shares essays by people who work with us, writing about what inspires their work.

Our final essays are written by Margaret Bingham and her son, John Tyrese Daniels. They are grassroots leaders on the Bring Chicago Home housing campaign.

Margaret Bingham and her daughter, Mariah

My name is Margaret Bingham. I became homeless ever since I lost my mom in the year 1991. I didn’t have nobody to turn to. I started sleeping on the bench in the park and my baby Mariah would be sleeping in her stroller. Then I started going to different places to live and went house to house. I would stay with my family members but could not stay with them for too long because the houses would be too crowded. Also, there were multiple deaths in my family since 1991 to 2018, so I have been living doubled-up for years.

I have a 10-year-old daughter named Mariah. She’s been in seven schools since she has been born and lived in different houses. Also, she has been bullied at all the schools she’s been to. But she is a smart girl and all her teachers say that about her.

I like being involved with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless because they help me get resources. I like helping to fight for affordable housing and help homeless people that are living on the street. I want to help the 86,000 people who are homeless right now like me.

Margaret Bingham

I like going to the meetings with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless because they go to Springfield to talk to senators and representatives to help get housing for the homeless in Chicago because we need it.

If you walk down the street today, you will see more people out there sleeping in the parks, at the bus stops, and train stations. It hurts me when I see people living out there in the cold and snowy weather. The city should be helping the homeless. Right now, I need a home that I can call my own.

I will continue to fight until we have housing for everyone.

+++

John Tyrese Daniels, volunteering at a Bring Chicago Home action this summer

Hi, my name is John Tyrese Daniels. I am an 18-year-old male. I was young when I was taken away from my mother. Finding her again and coming home to my mother has been stressful because she doesn’t have a stable place to live. On top of that, I have a 10-year-old sister who has experienced hardship through homelessness at this very time.

Homelessness is a problem. This problem can affect people in many ways. One way is that it puts stress on the table for the family and in this case my single mother. My mother on top of taking care of my little sister with her school also must worry about providing her a warm shelter.

I stress daily thinking about this situation because how can the city not be providing services to families in need.

Margaret and John work with CCH Community Organizer Bisma Shoukat.

Photos by Claire Sloss