Cheers! For Systemic Change

11 years ago, the Associate Board of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless was trying to brainstorm a name for their newest fundraising event, a guest bartending night.  “The prevailing joke was, we needed to come up with a better name than my first suggestion: Carousing for Housing,” remembers current Board Secretary, Shane Hopkin.  Eventually, the name Cheers for Change was suggested.  “We were celebrating systemic change, not your spare coins,” explains CCH’s Director of Development, Michael Nameche.  

The first Cheers For Change event was held at smartbar in April 2012 and featured a DJ set by Chicago DJs Intel & Maker as well as a drag performance by Silky Jumbo.  But the real stars were the 17 people that agreed to campaign for a month ahead of the night to collect virtual “tips” aka donations to CCH for the privilege of playing at being a bartender for one hour.  That first event raised over $16,000 and as Michael Nameche is fond of saying, “Success demands a repeat!”  To spur on the volunteer fundraising efforts, the Bartender Hall of Fame was created to encourage participants to raise $1,000 or more.  

Over 90 other supporters have since taken on the role of guest bartender, raising a cumulative $175,000 at establishments like The Owl, aliveOne and Woodie’s Flat until the pandemic put in-person events on pause.  But last month marked the triumphant return of Cheers For Change at a new location, Central Park Bar in Logan Square. 

On July 13, eight CCH supporters spent an evening in Central Park Bar’s beautiful and spacious beer garden taking drink orders from their friends and family, eventually raising $8,000 to support the work of CCH.  Although Central Park Bar was a new venue, we felt right at home thanks to the team supporting the effort: Four Entertainment Group embraced CCH and this fundraiser over a decade ago and has welcomed us at their other establishments like The Owl and aliveOne time and time again. 4EG says they “enhance neighborhoods” but we also feel like they improve communities with their partnerships. 

Here are a few moments from the evening that helped us restart our favorite fundraiser: 

Nikki DelZenero considers herself “an excellent listener and conversationalist,” so it is no surprise that she entered the CCH Bartender Hall of Fame before the event even began. 

Callie Gilsenan is definitely excited to follow in her older brother Patrick’s footsteps as a Cheers for Change Bartender. 

Ralph Tobias captivates his audience as they wait for their beverages.  Is he telling a joke?  A story?  Or ruminating on a mystery of life?  If you want to be a bartender, you have to be able to do all three. 

Conrad Weres is such a cocktail maestro that he performed in our 2022 Virtual Variety show as well.  This makes it the SECOND time he has utilized his mixology talents to support CCH and we could not be more grateful! 

6 College Scholarships Awarded

Six first-year college students won scholarships awarded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) in June. They hail from Chicago, Evanston, and West Chicago and will attend universities in Illinois and Washington, D.C.  

Launched in 2004, CCH’s scholarship program provides up to five years of financial support as students work towards a college degree. Twenty-four students will receive scholarships during the 2023 – 24 school year. They include six first-years, six sophomores, seven juniors, and five seniors. They are attending colleges and universities in California, Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, Washington, D.C., and Wisconsin. 

Four scholarship program alumni now in graduate school will receive $500 stipends for books or other academic materials. These students are pursuing a master’s in education, law school, and PhDs in sociology and environmental engineering.  

All first-year winners will also receive new laptops thanks to a grant from The Osa Foundation

We are pleased to announce that the scholarship award amount will increase to $4,000 thanks to a substantial gift from an anonymous foundation.

This gift will also allow CCH to support approximately 24 students annually, up from 20.  

The award amount last increased in 2020 with support from a transformational gift given in memory of Jill L. Meinzer.  

These generous gifts have been placed in an investment account to ensure the scholarships – also supported by designated donations and grants – will remain fully funded at the increased award amount for years to come. An annual distribution from the reserve account will augment annual fundraising efforts, making the larger awards possible in the long term.   

CCH is excited to share that two students graduated from college in May; a third will graduate after completing summer classes. They earned bachelor’s degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago (animation), the University of Illinois – Springfield (government), and St. Louis University (psychology).  

The 2024 scholarship winners are: 

Charles Ibrahim, University of Illinois Chicago 

A first-generation college student who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was 8, Charles Ibrahim has been interested in tinkering with things and learning how they work for as long as he can remember.  

At Amundsen High School, Charles was a peer advisor, an orchestra mentor, and a member of an engineering club where he learned about fixing appliances and building machines.  As a member of his varsity football team, Charles won an award for most improved player. He is also a proud graduate of his high school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program, known for its rigorous curriculum.  

Charles plans to major in mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois Chicago.  

“This very same passion I’ve taken while growing up is my main motivation for going to college,” Charles wrote in his application. “I want my skills in engineering to be molded by the hands of a competent university so I can truly be good at what I love.” 

Kary Hernandez, Loyola University Chicago  

While at West Chicago Community High School, Kary Hernandez wrote for the yearbook and school newspaper, The Wildcat Chronicle. She was an executive board member of a Women’s Leadership club and a member of the National Honor Society. She also worked at Panera Bread and served as a student election judge during the 2022 general election. Kary is trilingual, speaking English, Spanish, and Zapoteco, a dialect originating in Oaxaca, Mexico.   

Kary has been accepted into Loyola University Chicago’s five-year BSW/MSW program, which allows students to complete an undergraduate and graduate degree in social work in five years.  

“I am fortunate to have supportive teachers, social workers and counselors who do not make me feel bad for not having access to necessities,” Kary wrote in her application. “I want to be that person for others so they can feel cherished…What truly makes me joyful is to break the cycle of poverty, abuse, neglect, and much more.”   

Micheal Brown, Howard University 

Micheal Brown has dreamed of becoming a full-time musician since he was six years old. As a student at George Westinghouse College Prep, Micheal played first chair trumpet in the honors band, took piano lessons, and participated in a poetry slam group. He studied music business and audio production through summer classes.  Micheal also played varsity football, volunteered at his church, and worked up to 30 hours per week in various service industry roles.   

Micheal plans to major in music and business at Howard University, with the aim of becoming a successful musician who uses his influence to address issues he cares about, such as prison reform, poverty, and racial inequality.  

“Every day I acquire new goals and objectives and no matter how outrageous or unobtainable they may seem, I have failed at life if I do not attempt to try,” Micheal wrote in his application.  

Sabene Uwazie, Howard University

An Evanston Township High School graduate, Sabene Uwazie has a deep love for the performing arts. As a student, she was active in theater, taking on roles of both actor and assistant director in several school plays. She also participated in color guard, worked at Starbucks, and was a member of the Black Student Union.  

Sabene will attend Howard University and plans to major in psychology. Her academic interests include physics, theater, psychology, African American studies, and gender studies.  

She writes, “Even though these interests are in very different subjects, they all have an overlapping theme: to help and heal Black people as much as possible.” 

Serenity Rainey, Illinois State University

Serenity Rainey graduated from Daniel Hale Williams Prep School of Medicine where she played volleyball and was a member of the South Shore Drill Team. A National Honors Society member, she also worked various service jobs and completed a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) internship with Phalanx Family Services.  

Serenity will major in psychology at Illinois State University, with plans to pursue a PhD.

“I want to be a child psychologist because a lot of kids’ mental health is overlooked,” Serenity wrote in her application. “I want to be the person they can come and talk to. I want to help them understand that their feelings are valid and they don’t have to feel like they aren’t being heard. I want to be the person that I once needed when I was their age.” 

Tai Ramirez, University of Illinois Chicago 

A talented visual artist and performer, Tai Ramirez graduated from Walter Payton College Prep where they created and directed the Latin Music Ensemble, a performance group for Latinx musicians. As an executive board member for the Latin American Coalition, they also coordinated the school’s first Latinx Heritage Month Arts Showcase. Outside of school, Tai worked as a teaching assistant at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, focused on Afro-Caribbean/Afro Puerto Rican music and dance.  In 2022, Tai received special recognition during Latinx Heritage Month by the Mayor of Chicago for their artistic contributions.  

An aspiring art teacher, Tai plans to major in art education at the University of Illinois Chicago.  

“I want to create accepting and creative spaces in schools for Chicago’s youth to explore themselves and their identities through art and creative expression,” Tai wrote in their application. “I want to create healthy learning environments that inspire the upcoming generations of Chicago.” 

There would be no scholarship without your support.

The CCH Scholarship Program is only possible with the generous support of our community. This year’s awards were funded by The Osa Foundation, Susan W. Pearson Memorial Fund, and 20+ individual donors giving between $25 and $5,000. The CCH Associate Board also raised almost $5,000 for the scholarship program through a variety show fundraiser.   

Awards are also funded through an annual distribution from CCH’s scholarship reserve account, created with support from the family of Jill L. Meinzer and an anonymous foundation. This reserve account allowed CCH to increase its annual award by $1,000, to $3,500 in 2020. The award was raised again in 2023, to $4,000, with plans to gradually increase the number of students in the program from 20 to 24. 

To date, 34 scholarship winners have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 51% of students eligible to do so and surpassing national averages for students from families earning lowest incomes. Four other students (6%) have earned associate or nursing degrees. 

Serving on this year’s Scholarship Selection Committee are eight former scholarship winners: 

  • Daihana Estrada is a 2010 winner and UIC and Loyola law school graduate. 
  • Artist Dontay Lockett is a 2016 winner and Columbia College Chicago graduate.  
  • Gesenia Viviescas, a 2013 winner, earned a bachelor’s from DePauw University and a dual master’s degree in social work and in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies from DePaul University.  
  • Kristen Lang is a 2014 winner who teaches in the Chicago Public Schools after graduating from Benedict College. She is studying for a master’s in education from National Louis University.  
  • Mahalia Crawford, a 2014 winner and Tougaloo College graduate, is pursuing a PhD in sociology, with a focus on race and crime, at Louisiana State University.  
  • Mayra Fajardo is a 2017 winner who graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a double major in psychology and criminology.  
  • Nia Hill, a 2016 winner, studied accounting at Howard University and earned a master’s in nonprofit management from Columbia University.  
  • Pierrerasha Goodwin, a 2018 winner, graduated from Tougaloo College and is a current law student at the University of Alabama.  

Also serving on the committee are Patricia “Pat” Rivera, the founding donor of the scholarship program, and CCH’s intake & support manager, Christy Beretta. Pat previously served as director of the CPS homeless education program, as well as the founding director of a shelter-based tutoring program, Chicago HOPES for Kids. Christy, a licensed clinical social worker, manages CCH’s scholarship program on top of her other duties for CCH’s Law Project. 

The ten-member committee reviewed each application using a rubric to evaluate the strength of applicants’ short essays, transcripts, and recommendation letters. Twenty-five high school seniors applied by the May 12 deadline. All semifinalists were interviewed by the committee via Zoom in June.    

Donations can be made to support the scholarship program at  All donations directly support the scholarship awards distributed to students.  

2022 Year in Review Report

CCH is grateful for the strong coalition of people with lived experience, community members, direct-service and advocacy organizations, institutional partners, donors, and volunteers who are working every day to prevent and end homelessness. This report highlights our advocacy, organizing, and legal services work over the course of 2022.

You can now view our 2022 Year-in-Review Report below:

Illinois Legislative Wrap Up: 2023

The Illinois General Assembly wrapped up its spring session this past Friday evening/Saturday morning (depending on if you think of the glass half full or empty).  Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) worked on several legislative initiatives to best support people experiencing homelessness. With fiscal concerns fueled by an unexpected drop in projected revenue, the budgeteers were a bit more cautious in allocating funding to new and additional services.  

This year Chicago Coalition for the Homeless asked for additional funding for four-line items.

These items directly address housing security including homelessness prevention, homeless youth, permanent supportive housing, and emergency and transitional housing. Service providers struggle with the hard decisions around making cuts to services and turning people and families away when there isn’t enough space or funding to provide them with help. In addition, CCH asked for an increase in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) grant program.  

In the Governor’s proposed budget, he laid the way for his plan to end homelessness in Illinois under the new initiative Home Illinois

The program has $85 million in new money to support homeless services.

After budget negotiation these funds will be allocated as follows: $40.7 million to support Emergency and Transition Housing, $10.8 million to Homelessness Prevention Programming, $6 million to Permanent Supportive Housing, and $3 million for Homeless Youth Programming. The plan also includes funds for asylum seekers, as well as federal funds for rapid rehousing, eviction support, triage shelters, and pilot programs. We are excited about the additional funding opportunities for providers and the people and communities they serve.  

CCH worked on passing legislation that will remove structural barriers.

For students experiencing housing insecurity, school is often the only place where things are stable for homeless students. Schools are required to provide services and assistance to students who are experiencing housing insecurity, but sometimes students aren’t aware that help is available and sometimes teachers are unsure of how to identify or provide aid to these students. Helping these students remain enrolled and engaged is critical for their futures. House Bill 3116 (Representative Katie Stuart and Senator Karina Villa) will require all school personnel to complete a training to help them identify and know the supports for these students.  

CCH worked in collaboration with Cabrini Green Legal Aid

on Senate Bill 1367 (Senator Christopher Belt and Representative Lilian Jimenez). In 2020 our organizations successfully worked on the Public Housing Access Bill (PHAB) creating standards for Illinois Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to make sure returning citizens have access to public housing.  It created a standardization for the criminal background screening process, improved equity, and access to affordable housing for individuals with records. To provide additional clarity and provide greater access SB 1367 shortened the look-back periods, expands public housing to any program that receives federal funding and provides applicants with an opportunity to present mitigating circumstances before being denied due to their background.  This legislation also clarifies data collection.  

TANF cash assistance did receive an increase.

Our advocacy for an increase to the TANF cash assistance did result in an increase, but not to the level families need. We asked for a 20% increase, to move the cash assistance from 30% of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) (where the support has been for the last six years) to 50%., The Governor’s office requested an increase to 40%, and the final budget implementation bill increased the assistance by only 5% to 35% FPL.  With the federal government looking to put more restrictions and barriers in the way of families receiving TANF in their compromise over the debt ceiling, making sure that we are providing families with an increased grant amount will be a continued goal at CCH.    

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless would like to thank our partners in this work.

alongside the advocates who worked with us this year including the sponsors listed above as well as Representative Michelle Mussman and Senator Adriane Johnson who carried the housing budget ask legislation, Representative Will Guzzardi, chair of the Housing Committee, Senator Robert Peters and Senator Sara Feigenholtz for their advocacy for the Homeless Youth line item and Leader Elgie Sims and Leader Jehan Gordan-Booth the chief budgeteers in both chambers.  

If you would like to learn more about what CCH was advocating for in Springfield this season check out our State Legislation page:

Get Ready to Renew Your Medicaid Coverage

Medicaid customers have not had to renew their Medicaid coverage since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Medicaid pays for healthcare, like doctor visits, prescription medicine, and urgent emergency services.  

Now Illinois is starting renewals again to see if people are still eligible. Everybody’s renewal date is different, so it is critical that you get ready to renew.  

Don’t risk losing your Medicaid Coverage! Here is what you need to do:  

Click Manage My Case at to: 

  • Verify your mailing address under “contact us.” 
  • Find your due date (also called redetermination date) in your “benefit details.”

Watch your mail and complete your renewal right away. 

You can also update your mailing address and find your Medicaid redetermination date by calling 1-800-843-6154.

If you are no longer eligible for Medicaid, connect to coverage at work or through the official Affordable Care Act marketplace for Illinois,

Need assistance? Contact CCH Public Benefits Specialist Venus Rivera at

Preschool Enrollment Support

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 legal system.

Chicago families with preschool-age children can enroll in preschool starting April 11 for the 2023-24 school year.

If your child is four years old on or before September 1, 2023, they are eligible for CPS full-day and half-day programs. If your child is three years old on or before September 1, 2023, they are eligible for CPS half-day programs and Community Based Programs.

Families can apply online and get information about early learning on the CPS website or by phone, at (312) 229-1690.

CPS gives priority placement in preschool for children in families experiencing homelessness.

Still, it is important to apply as early as possible to avoid being placed on a waitlist.

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.

If you submit the application during the Initial Application Period (April 11– May 2) you’ll receive your child’s placement by May 19th. If the application is submitted after May 2, the child’s placement will be sent on a rolling basis. You can log into the portal or call the hotline to find out your child’s placement.

After submitting the application and receiving your child’s placement, you must verify your child’s spot at your assigned preschool program within two weeks or at a Family Resource Center. If you are in a temporary living situation, you can receive transportation to verify your child’s spot.

You can apply to more than one preschool program.

You can accept a spot at a preschool program and remain on the waitlist at another preschool program.

If your child is attending a Chicago Public Schools preschool program, your child has a right to transportation services. If your child is attending a community-based preschool program, you should check with the individual program to determine what supports are available for students in temporary living situations.

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 872-588-6800 if you need assistance with preschool enrollment.

Community Care During Crisis: CCH Mutual Aid Fund Impact Report

At the onset of the COVID–19 pandemic, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless launched the Edrika Fulford Mutual Aid Fund and has distributed more than $450,000 in emergency cash to over 900 households facing homelessness.

In collaboration with the Mutual Aid Fund Governance Committee and researchers at the Inclusive Economy Lab of University of Chicago, the Community Care During Crisis: Mutual Aid Fund Impact Report webinar was hosted on Thursday, March 9 at 4:00 p.m. Learn more about the Mutual Aid Fund model and how the program has been working to meet survival needs and build coalition by watching the recording and reviewing the presentation below.

Watch the recording here.

Help us continue to provide emergency care to households facing homelessness.

Hidden Homelessness in the United States

Why Congress must change the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness to align with other federal agencies

An FAQ created by Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Family Promise, National Network for Youth, and SchoolHouse Connection. 

What is HUD’s role and how does it define and measure homelessness? 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the federal agency that oversees national policy and programs related to housing needs and fair housing laws. This includes programs intended to address homelessness, such as rental assistance, housing vouchers, public and subsidized housing, and funding for emergency shelters and wrap-around services. 

HUD defines homeless as “a person who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.”  

To estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States, HUD conducts an annual Point-in-Time (PIT) count on a designated night in January. The PIT count tallies people staying at shelters, transitional housing programs, or a place not meant for habitation, such as a park or car.  

Continue reading Hidden Homelessness in the United States

SB1367 Public Housing Access Bill

The Public Housing Access Bill (PHAB) created standards for Illinois Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) to use in the criminal background screening process, improving equity and access to affordable housing for individuals with criminal records. The bill shortened look-back periods and provides applicants with an opportunity to present mitigating circumstances before being denied due to their background.      

The current legislation will clarify data collection and the programs covered by PHAB.  

Sponsors: Sen. Belt, Sen. Peters, and Sen. Simmons

Updated June 9: Signed Into Law

Return to CCH’s 2023 Legislative

HB2481 / SB2241: Commit to Funding and Ending Homelessness in Illinois 

The recently completed state plan required by Governor Pritzker’s executive order, Home Illinois, creates a framework for achieving functional zero homelessness. The shortage of affordable housing compounded by losing employment, chronic physical and/or mental health problems, domestic violence, or a family turning away a child are just some of the circumstances that result in homelessness.  

State-funded programs to prevent and end homelessness receive deeply inadequate funding to achieve the goals of the plan. Providers have continuously stepped up to serve more people in crisis during the pandemic. Providers continue to struggle with: 

  • Increasing rents in the private market, making it harder to help people maintain or find a home.  
  • Agencies unable to pay competitive wages to retain and recruit qualified staff. 
  • Shelters losing donated spaces and volunteers due to COVID-19 concerns. 

This legislation will increase the housing and homeless service line items. These funds will help support the development of new housing opportunities, keep people on the brink of homelessness to maintain their housing, provide supportive services and make sure that staff in these programs are provided with a living wage.  

Supportive Housing Services  

  • Current Funding: $42.59 million 
  • Total Increased Funding Need: $17.9 million 

The Homeless Youth Program 

  • Current Funding: $7.28 million 
  • Total Increased Funding Need: $5 million 

The Homelessness Prevention Program  

  • Current Funding: $10 million 
  • Increased Funding Need: $5 million 

The Emergency and Transitional Housing Program 

  • Current Funding: $10.38 million 
  • Increased Funding Need: $51 million 

Sponsors: Rep. Mussman and Sen. Johnson

Update: March 14, 2023 – Committee Deadline Extended

Community Comments:

As organizers gather in Springfield and Witness Slips are submitted we will keep you up to date with community comments and opportunities to take action.

Return to CCH’s 2023 Legislative