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.

But Hotel 166 is operating at capacity, as are other facilities the city has established to temporarily house at-risk homeless individuals during the pandemic.

The result is Ewaniuk and many others like him are stuck in limbo at shelters while they wait to learn whether the city can find a safer place for them.

Up to this point, Chicago has experienced amazing success in limiting the impact of the coronavirus on homeless people, especially in comparison to other individuals being housed in congregate settings such as nursing homes or the jail.

More than two months into the crisis, nobody living in a homeless shelter is known to have died from COVID-19, while only two staff members have died.

That’s commendable when you realize many shelter residents are the same age and have similar health issues as residents of nursing homes, where the death toll has been horrendous.

There is argument about how much of the credit for that success goes to city government itself as opposed to a group of health care professionals and nonprofit homeless service agencies who stepped in to provide their own safeguards and brought the city along in the process.

But it’s clear the city has taken extraordinary steps as well, from taking over hotels to opening extra shelter spaces across the city — both for the benefit of those recuperating from the illness and for those who needed to be protected from it.

The concern now is whether the city will maintain that commitment as the pandemic moves to its next phase.

Just last week, Franciscan Outreach experienced its first major outbreak of COVID-19 since the start of the crisis, with 19 individuals out of 80 testing positive at its main shelter on Harrison Street.

None of them showed symptoms of the disease, and all were transferred to isolation centers the city arranged previously for homeless individuals in their situation.

Some of those individuals have underlying health conditions and probably should have been moved sooner, as should many who are still at the shelter, said Richard Ducatenzeiler, executive director at Franciscan Outreach.

Ducatenzeiler said he believes the city’s efforts to provide “shield housing” have been very effective and saved many lives.

But as he was reminded the hard way with last week’s outbreak, the job is not finished.

“We need more options. COVID-19 is not going away in the next couple of weeks or months,” said Ducatenzeiler, whose shelters took numerous precautions in the early stages of the pandemic that kept the virus at bay until now.

Ducatenzeiler said he sees permanent housing solutions as the biggest need, so the homeless people staying in the hotel could be moved into their own apartments where possible.

In the meantime, he wants the city to look at opening more hotel beds for the homeless.

In a new report, the volunteer group that helped organize the city’s COVID-19 response says another 400 high-risk homeless persons could benefit from opening more hotel rooms or subsidized apartments.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is urging the Lightfoot administration to use some of its federal pandemic relief funding under the CARES Act to put homeless people in apartments.

On Monday, a homeless resident at another Franciscan Outreach shelter where Ewaniuk is staying was hospitalized after coming down with a high fever and testing positive for the coronavirus.

“It scares the you-know-what out of me. I’ve been up all night worrying if I contracted it,” said Ewaniuk, who said he’s been hospitalized 14 times in the past for various ailments and is without his prescribed medication.

It will be a few days before he gets his test results.

Ewaniuk said this the first time in his life he’s been homeless. He was living with an aunt but got thrown out March 29 in a dispute over whether his comings and goings from her home were putting her at heightened risk of being infected by the virus.

Chicago deserves credit for protecting homeless people so far during the crisis. This is no time to ease up.

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.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: COVID-19 outbreaks in homeless shelters threaten to outpace city response, doctor warns

Shelters are feeling pressure as they attempt to care for homeless guests who have tested positive for the infection yet they still must live alongside those who have tested negative.

By Mark Brown, Chicago Sun-Times columnist

A doctor who is working with Chicago’s homeless shelters to contain the spread of COVID-19 is sounding the alarm over a looming breakdown in the city’s capacity to care for homeless people who contract the disease.

Dr. Evan Lyon, chief integrated health officer at Heartland Alliance Health, warned that coronavirus outbreaks at the shelters are on the verge of overrunning temporary housing the city has created to isolate sick and at-risk homeless individuals.

The problem became more clear this past week after the first extensive screening of shelter residents and staff revealed 30-45 percent tested positive for the virus at some locations.

Although more than 90 percent of the people testing positive are exhibiting no symptoms, the concern is those individuals could spread the illness further in the close confines of the shelters.

That, in turn, is increasing pressure on shelters as they attempt to care for homeless guests who have tested positive for the infection yet still must live alongside those who have tested negative—even as the shelters lose staff members to the illness and to the fear of it.

In addition, Lyon said, there is concern the shelters themselves, which were never designed to serve as health care settings, will become unable to function and “collapse” because too many staff members are sick or decide they can’t come to work.

“People I think will die because we’re not getting them up to better care,” warned Lyon, who got his medical degree from Harvard and has extensive international experience dealing with health crises, including a cholera outbreak in Haiti.

Look, nobody wants to be the little boy who cried wolf. I certainly don’t, and I’m confident Dr. Lyon doesn’t either.

But when lives are on the line, you don’t want to wait until it’s too late to speak up either.

Lyon’s warning comes less than a week after Mayor Lori Lightfoot held a press conference to tout the city’s efforts on behalf of the homeless during the pandemic.

And Lyon would be the first to tell you the city has taken extraordinary steps to meet the unique challenges COVID-19 poses to homeless people, who are highly vulnerable because of their living conditions and underlying health problems.

Lightfoot’s administration has rented out two downtown hotels—Hotel 166 and Hotel Julian—to care for convalescing homeless individuals and opened a new temporary isolation facility at A Safe Haven. It also has partnered with the YMCA of Metro Chicago and Salvation Army to open extra shelter beds to allow regular shelters to move out some of their guests and maintain appropriate social distancing for those left behind.

Everyone tells me there’s also been great collaboration between some of the city’s health providers—Rush University Medical Center, University of Illinois Health, Lawndale Christian Health Center and Heartland Alliance in particular—to step up and provide medical support at the temporary locations and shelters.

To date, no homeless person is known to have died from the disease in Cook County, which is remarkable given the rising death toll among the public at large and a credit to the efforts made so far.

So why sound the alarm? Because people I respect are telling me more needs to be done and that our luck is about to run out with potentially dire consequences.

Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler and Department of Public Health Managing Deputy Commissioner Megan Cunningham told me Sunday the city is doing everything it can to protect the homeless and is prepared to do more as it responds to an evolving situation.

Tellingly, they didn’t directly take issue with Lyon (Butler called him a “trusted partner”) but said he may not be aware of everything the city is doing to support the shelters and prepare for contingencies.

They noted that more extensive testing has also uncovered no COVID-19 at some shelters and less than five of the population testing positive at others.

Lyon and I spoke twice over the weekend between his visits to homeless shelters to inform individuals of their test results.

The doctor said he expects Hotel 166 and A Safe Haven to fill up with homeless patients this week. That’s when it will get sticky.

Ironically, the danger from COVID-19 may be even greater for homeless people living in congregate shelter situations, where large groups sleep in the same room and share bathroom facilities, than for those living on the street.

That only reminds us the long-term solution is, as always, more truly affordable housing.

Right now, though, all we’re looking for is a way to help these folks stay alive to worry about their future.

Chicago Sun-Times: Inside the life of a homeless Chicago student in the age of the coronavirus – fear of failing, or not surviving

She’s 11 years old and one of 17,000 homeless Chicago Public Schools students. She’s pre-diabetic, asthmatic and her neighborhood has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Illinois.

Margaret Bingham and her daughter, Mariah (Photo by James Foster for the Sun-Times)

By Nader Issa

For the first three months, it was a park bench by Douglas Park on the West Side.

Then her older sister’s apartment in Homan Square.

Three different places in Englewood. One over in Gresham.

In all, Mariah Bingham has lived in 13 different places since she was born. She’s likely to be on the move again in the coming months.

She’s 11 years old and one of 17,000 homeless students at Chicago Public Schools.

LINK to the Sun-Times feature and photos

Mariah’s going into the home stretch of fifth grade having already gone to seven schools, never with a stable learning environment.

Now the coronavirus has taken over, and Mariah feels she might take a step back academically.

That’s not to mention the health concerns: Mariah and her mother are both asthmatic. Her mom is diabetic, Mariah, pre-diabetic.

“I am terrified of the coronavirus,” Mariah says, “because I love my life.”

‘I think I’m going to fall behind’

Mariah stood over a dining room table in early March before schools closed, soda in hand, showing off her neon pink poster plastered with facts about women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth. Mariah was humble, even reluctant to share, but she took pride in her work.

“She just showed she had to fight for what she wanted,” Mariah said of Truth, the figure she picked for her Black History Month project.

Things have changed in the weeks since, and Mariah and her 56-year-old mother, Margaret, have had to keep fighting.

The middle of March marked one year for her at Harvard Elementary, a school on the border of Englewood and Gresham that officials identify as needing extra support. Harvard serves almost entirely black students from low-income families.

Mariah was making progress in school, focusing on her favorite subject, math, and had developed a close-knit group of friends.

But when schools closed, Mariah was left without access to a computer or reliable internet.

“Honestly, I think I’m going to fall behind, definitely,” she said. “I’m kind of scared because if I don’t learn all that I need … it’s gonna be hard for me to get to sixth grade.”

Mariah was sent home with a homework packet when classes stopped nearly a month ago. She finished it three days later and has been bored waiting for more work. CPS is set to start widespread remote learning Monday, and her class has geared up with an online program that teaches various subjects. But Mariah has had trouble following along on her tiny cellphone screen.

“How am I supposed to learn if I can’t even do anything?” she said.

Her mother is in touch with the principal at Harvard in hopes Mariah can be provided with a laptop. CPS is working on distributing 100,000 devices over the coming days and weeks, and students experiencing homelessness are among the priorities.

But the district estimates 115,000 kids need computers and acknowledges the problem can’t be fixed overnight. So for now, a student’s grade can’t be lowered during the closures. Failed or incomplete assignments might have to be made up later.

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Chicago looks at housing the homeless in hotels during the coronavirus crisis

One homeless man — a former college academic adviser — says the homeless community’s health problems should concern everyone: ‘We’re out there. We’re riding public transportation.’

By Mark Brown, columnist

The city of Chicago is considering making hotel rooms available to homeless people during the coronavirus crisis to try to prevent the spread of the disease among that particularly vulnerable population.

Homeless services providers were informed of the city’s emergency planning during a webinar presentation Friday conducted by officials from three city agencies.

Several California cities have taken steps toward using hotel rooms to house the homeless during the crisis.

Chicago officials are exploring the availability of other facilities that could be used temporarily to get homeless people off the street or out of crowded shelters.

Though no homeless person is known to have tested positive for the coronavirus in Chicago, officials want to identify potential isolation facilities where those individuals could be housed.

A city spokesperson said city departments are trying to identify alternative locations to provide emergency shelter for homeless individuals but did not directly address questions about using hotels.

Shelter operators and advocates who have been pressing the city to take preventive action are encouraged.

“They are very much responding to provider concerns,” said Richard Ducatenzeiler, executive director of Franciscan Outreach, one of the city’s largest providers of homeless services. “I’m very optimistic and confident the city is doing everything possible.”

Just a few days ago, social service agencies complained of a lack of preparedness.

The problem is obvious. How are homeless people supposed to safely “shelter in place” or practice “social distancing” when their only home is a group-style shelter or if they have no home at all and are living in encampments on the street?

Most homeless shelters sleep their guests congregated in large, open rooms with beds only a few feet apart to maximize capacity.

Under normal circumstances, homeless people living on the street face special challenges maintaining hygiene. The extra level of attention needed to protect against the spread of this virus is nearly impossible for them.

On top of that, many homeless people fall into the at-risk category for the coronavirus because they are older than 60 or have underlying health conditions. Ducatenzeiler said probably one-third of the people staying in Franciscan Outreach’s three shelters — which has 382 beds — could be categorized as at-risk.

Ducatenzeiler said he has urged the city to reduce the number of homeless individuals staying at his facilities, but that requires finding them another place to stay.

That’s why hotel rooms are under serious consideration.

Ronald Matthews, 65, is among the homeless people worried about contracting the virus. Matthews has been homeless since 2015 and has stayed most nights since July at Pacific Garden Mission, just south of the Loop.

But in the past two weeks, Matthews has taken to using his Social Security retirement benefits to check himself into a hotel because of his health concerns.

“Being my age, I never readily admitted being fearful of anything,” said Matthews, a former academic adviser at two local universities. “This frightens the hell out of me.”

Matthews, who was hospitalized for pneumonia Christmas Eve and once suffered a collapsed lung, said the hotel has been great but that he’s running out of money — and using up funds he hoped to put toward an apartment.

“This is not the wisest use of my funds, but, for my sanity, it’s imperative,” he said.

Matthews said the health problems of the homeless community should concern all Chicagoans.

“We’re out there. We’re riding public transportation,” he said.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless developed a lengthy set of recommendations for government action but said the two most critical are to create isolation housing for at-risk homeless people and to “de-concentrate” the number of people in shelters.

Julie Dworkin, policy director for the coalition, said the city would need 2,800 hotel rooms to get homeless people off the street and relocate the at-risk individuals now living in shelters.

Dworkin said the coalition is encouraged by the moves the city has made in recent days, but she cautioned, “There is nothing concrete yet and no clear plans for what will happen if a single case or, in the worst-case scenario, an outbreak happens in a shelter.”

The city has to balance an extraordinary number of competing concerns, but looking out for homeless people needs to be on the urgent list.

February media reports: U.S. homeless student enrollment hits all-time high; legislators introduce compromise transfer tax bill as ‘win-win’ for city and the homeless

February 11, 2020

Chicago Tribune: Democratic lawmakers renew push for significant homeless funding in Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s real estate transfer tax plan

By Jamie Munks and Antonia Ayers-Brown

A group of Democratic lawmakers is renewing a push for Mayor Lori Lightfoot to agree to dedicate a significant portion of revenue from her real estate transfer tax plan to initiatives to combat homelessness in Chicago.

Lightfoot’s graduated real estate transfer tax plan would have wealthier homeowners paying more on property sales. The first-year mayor campaigned on the issue and it was among her top requests of the legislature last year.

The chances of that plan advancing appeared tenuous going into the fall session, however, and it flamed out when a group of progressive Chicago-area lawmakers said they wouldn’t support it without a significant percentage of the new revenue going toward homelessness initiatives. Lightfoot said at the time the request for 60% of the plan’s revenue to go toward homelessness is “never going to happen, obviously,” because of the city’s budget constraints.

The latest proposal was put forth Tuesday by 33 Democratic lawmakers who called it a “compromise,” noting it would allocate revenue from the transfer tax to both patch the city’s budget hole and provide homeless services. Talks with Lightfoot’s administration have been ongoing since the fall session adjourned, according to lawmakers, who expressed optimism that some form of the tax plan would advance in the General Assembly this spring.

“This puts what we’ve been discussing in meetings into writing. It allows the opportunity to use it as a starting point,” said Sen. Ram Villivalam, a Chicago Democrat.

Lightfoot campaigned on increasing affordable housing options in Chicago by adjusting the city’s real estate transfer tax so wealthier homeowners pay more.

The rate structure laid out in legislation filed Tuesday adjusts the rates in Lightfoot’s proposal on properties sold within city limits for more than $3 million. Its backers say the proposal would generate an estimated $88 million to help plug the city’s deficit, while funneling an additional $79 million toward homelessness initiatives.

For property sales between $3 million and $10 million, the rate would be 2.8% for the portion of the sales price that exceeds $3 million. For property sales greater than $10 million, the transfer tax rate would be 4%, applying to the portion of the sale over $10 million. Lightfoot’s proposal would have applied a 2.55% rate to that highest bracket.

February 11, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times: Legislators tout real estate transfer tax proposal as ‘win-win’ compromise for Lightfoot and the homeless

Both Ramirez and Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said they met with members of Lightfoot’s staff and called their proposal a “framework” from which to begin negotiations.

By Neal Earley

State lawmakers are taking another stab at revamping how Chicago taxes real estate sales, hoping for a compromise that gives City Hall the money it needs while still providing more money to help the homeless.

A pair of legislators on Monday filed two bills — one in the Senate and one in the House — that will allow Chicago to restructure its tax on property transfers.

During the fall veto session, Mayor Lori Lightfoot lobbied the General Assembly to let the city change the structure of the city’s real estate transfer tax to provide some cash relief to the city.

But Lightfoot was met with opposition from Chicago Democrats in Springfield, who wanted a large portion of the money to be spent on affordable housing and services for the homeless, not just for the city’s overall budget.

“No mayor wants to talk about dedicating dollars because they want that authority for themselves,” said state Rep. Delia C. Ramirez, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the bill in the House.

Both Ramirez and Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said they met with members of Lightfoot’s staff and called their proposal a “framework” from which to begin negotiations.

Villivalam said the proposed legislation gives both sides what they want — Lightfoot gets extra money for the city’s budget, and state lawmakers get dedicated money to combat homelessness in Chicago.

“This is the ultimate win-win situation where we look to fund the city’s budget deficit and we address one of the larger, one of the major challenges our city faces,” Villivalam said.

Lightfoot’s office issued a statement pledging to work with legislators, the Bring Chicago Home advocacy group “and all other stakeholder on options” on the real estate transfer tax “and other progressive revenue solutions that will help address the city’s long-term financial needs.

“We are in discussions with the Bring Home Chicago coalition on ways to partner on a legislative proposal that generates progressive revenue and responds to the needs of all our most vulnerable communities, including homeless residents,” said mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Huffman.

While some state lawmakers previously said they wanted at least 60% of the new funds from the proposed structure of the real estate transfer tax to go to helping the homeless, the new bill would set aside only 25% for it.

Ramirez said the bill’s rate structure, which will increase the maximum tax for property transfers more than Lightfoot proposed, will bring in more revenue than what was proposed during the veto session.

In Chicago, real estate transfers are currently taxed at $5.25-per-$500.

If passed, the bill would also set new rates for the Real Estate Transfer Tax. The bill would cut the tax for property transfers $1 million and under.

Under the proposed rate structure, real estate transfers $500,000 and under will be taxed at $2.75-per-$500 of the transfer price. For properties transferred between $500,000 to $1 million will be taxed at $4.75-per-$500 of the transfer price.

Transfers between $1 million and $3 million will be taxed at $7.50-per-$500 of the transfer price. Real estate transfers between $3 million and $10 million will be taxed $14-per-$500 of the transfer price and for transfers over $10 million will be taxed at $20-per-$500 of the transfer price.

Link to the full report

February 10, 2020

Education Week: Number of homeless students hits all-time high

Influx poses challenges for some schools

By Sarah D. Sparks

A record-high 1.5 million students were homeless during the 2017-18 school year, 11 percent more than the previous year and nearly double the number a decade ago, according to new federal data.

To put that in perspective, imagine a school district bigger than New York City and Miami-Dade put together, made up of children who are trailing other students—even those in poverty—by 10 percentage points or more in math, reading, and science. Eighteen percent of them have learning disabilities. Nearly that many are still learning English. Virtually all of them experience stress and trauma.

Sixteen states have seen student homelessness rise 10 percent or more in the last three years alone, according to the analysis released this month by the federally funded National Center for Homeless Education, part of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Districts from Chicago to Grand Forks, N.D., from Paducah, Ky. to the Austin, Texas, suburbs are struggling to keep up with the swell of their most vulnerable students—mostly with limited money. While federal homeless education funding rose $12 million from 2015 to 2017, there was no increase in the number of districts receiving those subgrants. On average, per-pupil spending for homeless students increased only $3 during that time…

Academic Struggles

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to track homeless students’ academic achievement and high school graduation rates, and while many states have been slow to report the data, deep academic gulfs have come to light between homeless students and low-income students with stable housing.

As of 2017-18, homeless students lagged behind housed students in poverty at every grade and subject tested under ESSA. Overall, only 29 percent of homeless students performed proficiently in reading and language arts, 8.5 percent fewer than other low-income students. Roughly 1 in 4 homeless students was proficient in math and science overall, compared to a third or more of housed low-income students.

Those intense academic needs are compounded when schools begin to see multiple homeless students in the same schools—many of which also serve other low-income students…

…Capacity to support homeless children has become such a concern in Chicago that the teachers’ union negotiated it into its most recent contract. Each school that enrolls 75 or more homeless students will now get one new full-time homeless coordinator, and the handful of schools that enroll 140 or more homeless students will get two full-time staff members.

While federal law requires schools to identify and serve homeless students, in most schools, one teacher or staff member—a social worker, Title I director, or foster care advocate, for example—adds those duties to an already-full plate, according to Patricia Nix-Hodes, the director of the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, which helped inform the new staff requirements.

“Clearly, as the numbers increase, someone who has this role on top of many other roles would not have the time or capacity to serve those families or even to identify all the students who might be in homeless situations,” Nix-Hodes said….

Link to the full report

January media reports: Homeless liaisons in CPS; panhandling; food stamps; CityPak; and Uptown tent city

January 29, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: As the number of homeless kids in Chicago grows, CPS does more to help

One of the best provisions in the new Chicago Teachers Union contract is a requirement that the public schools hire additional staff in the 15 schools which have the largest numbers of homeless students.

By the CST Editorial Board

…Homelessness has a significant negative impact on achievement, as we all intuitively know and as studies confirm. Only 30% of homeless students nationwide scored at or above their state’s reading standards in 2017, according to a 2019 study by the National Center for Homeless Education at the University of North Carolina, and only 25% scored at that level in math.

What kid deserves a deal like that?

For our money, then — or, rather, for your tax dollars — one of the best provisions in the new Chicago Teachers Union contract is a requirement that the Chicago Public Schools hire more staff to work in the 15 schools — most on the South or West sides — that have the largest numbers of homeless students…

…CPS school-community reps will, among other tasks, make sure families and students know their legal rights, such as the right to enroll in any public school without having to provide proof of residence and to remain in their home school even if they have to move.

“The purpose [of the law] is to prevent days or weeks while a child isn’t enrolled in school anywhere,” Patricia Nix-Hodes of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless told us.

During the teachers’ strike, the CTU seized on the problem of student homelessness in an effort to force the city to commit to create more affordable housing. Chicago has a well-documented shortage of affordable housing…

Link to the Sun-Times editorial

January 28, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Transformational’ new CPS positions will help students who are homeless

The school district last year had more than 16,000 kids without a home

By Nader Issa

Months of debate over one of the Chicago Teachers Union’s key contract demands, affordable housing, led to a breakthrough in teacher negotiations last fall: Chicago Public Schools has agreed to hire new staff members to help kids deal with homelessness and other temporary living situations.

Though news of the positions was widely shared when the deal was reached as part of the agreement to end the teachers strike, all involved have spent the time since then discussing the finer details and mechanics of what many view as a significant benefit to a district that last year had more than 16,000 kids without a permanent home.

Half of the students are concentrated in 10 South and West side wards. Though 36 percent of the district’s students are African American, 81 percent of homeless students are black, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The CTU is hosting an informational session at 5 p.m. Tuesday at its headquarters, 1901 W. Carroll, to help families and teachers understand homeless students’ rights.

“This will be the first opportunity that we know of where our members are all getting together to discuss these issues,” said Sarah Rothschild, a CTU education policy analyst. “Really elevating this issue [is important].”

…The new positions, called school community representatives, will go into schools that have at least 75 students living in those situations. Schools that have 140 or more such students will get two new staff members.

The school community reps will help families apply for fee waivers and understand their rights, as well as provide resources such as CTA passes, school uniforms and school supplies. And in many cases, they’ll work to identify students as homeless who have gone under the radar and aren’t getting the necessary support.

In all, 15 schools will get the positions, with three schools getting two school community reps and 12 getting one. CPS human resources head Matt Lyons said the list of schools couldn’t yet be shared because the district is still working to inform principals and isn’t posting the jobs for another week or two.

Meanwhile, workers at other schools who help homeless kids in addition to their other duties will for the first time receive stipends of $1,000 – $3,000.

“Even though it’s not a huge stipend, it’s a big, big step politically at the school level in highlighting the importance of the work that they do,” Rothschild said.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has already been working with the district on annual training for school staff on how to best aid students who are homeless, and the nonprofit is helping develop these new positions.

“Having one dedicated person fulfilling those responsibilities is going to be really transformational for those students,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the coalition’s free legal services program. “I think it will really change the direction of students’ lives.”

Link to the full report

January 29, 2020

Block Club Chicago: Apartments or condos coming to former bank site near Western Blue Line station

The former bank property has sat vacant for years, and a group of people experiencing homelessness started living there last year

By Mina Bloom

LOGAN SQUARE — A four-story residential and retail building could soon rise on an abandoned bank property at Western and Armitage avenues — a site where people experiencing homelessness were living until the city kicked them out.

A developer operating under the limited liability corporation Advent Properties LLC- 2000 is looking to build a four-story building with 21 residential units and ground-floor retail on the site at 2000 N. Western Ave. / 2406 W. Armitage Ave., according to Ald. Daniel La Spata’s 1st Ward office and zoning attorney Mark Kupiec.

The developer doesn’t need a zoning change to build the project. Instead, it’s headed directly to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals for approval. The developer is, however, seeking two zoning variances because the lot is smaller than standard city lots, according to Kupiec…

…The former MB Financial Bank property has sat vacant for years. Sometime over the last year, a group of people experiencing homelessness had started living there.

In September, the group lost everything in a city cleanup, which sparked outrage among homeless advocates and raised questions about such city sweeps.

La Spata previously called the move “deeply frustrating.”

Said Diane O’ Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless: “There was ample opportunity for the city to do better in this situation. Certainly if they needed people to move things they could’ve communicated beforehand, they could’ve provided a place to move things to.”

Neighbors are encouraged to send feedback on the development proposal to La Spata’s office via

Link to the full report

January 15, 2020

Daily Herald: DuPage, state police won’t enforce panhandling prohibition while lawsuit is pending

By Robert Sanchez

A state law prohibiting roadside panhandling won’t be enforced by Illinois State Police and the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office until a federal lawsuit challenging the law is resolved.

Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons filed the lawsuit in August 2019 against state police Director Brendan Kelly, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and the village of Downers Grove. The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that they have the free-speech right to ask for help.

State police and the state’s attorney office on Tuesday agreed to a preliminary injunction prohibiting them from enforcing a section of a state law that bars asking drivers for money for 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.”

Officials with the DuPage state’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Dumiak and Simmons are being represented by the ACLU of Illinois, the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin…

Link to the full report

January 10, 2020

Chicago Tribune: 50,000 Cook County residents will lose food stamps if they don’t find work soon, and the clock is ticking

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Richard Butler’s life hasn’t unfolded as he once imagined it would. As a child he dreamed of being a cartoonist, or maybe a singer or entrepreneur. Instead, he spent time in prison for burglarizing a car, experienced bouts of homelessness, and has struggled with mental health issues he says make it difficult to hold down a job.

Richard Butler stays at a friend’s apartment on South Halsted Street in Chicago. Butler could be impacted by new work requirements imposed on food stamp recipients. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — provides Butler with $194 per month to put toward groceries. It helps him get by.

So Butler, 25, was shocked when he learned work requirements now in effect in Cook County could threaten those benefits.

“I’m in a situation where I don’t have anything,” said Butler, who is jobless and sleeps on an air mattress at a friend’s home in Englewood. “The least the government can do is help me eat.”

The clock started ticking Jan. 1 for about 50,000 food stamp recipients in Cook County who are now limited to three months of benefits over three years, unless they work, volunteer or participate in job training for at least 20 hours a week. Part of federal law since the 1990s, the work rules have been waived in Cook County for more than a decade but as of this year must be imposed because of the county’s low unemployment rate.

The work requirements apply only to adults aged 18 to 49 who are considered able-bodied and don’t have dependents; the majority of the county’s 826,000 food stamp recipients won’t be affected.

But there are grave concerns that the state’s workforce development system isn’t equipped to help such a large number of people find jobs, and that many individuals might not learn the rules exist until their benefits are cut off.

The state’s Department of Human Services mailed notices in December alerting people to the change, but many are homeless or change addresses frequently, and won’t know that they need to meet the requirements or seek exemptions for qualifying disabilities, said Mary Frances Charlton, youth health attorney at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless…

…Charlton, the attorney for homeless youth, said she believes Butler qualifies for a mental health exemption from the work requirements, and is helping him file that paperwork. But social service providers worry many SNAP recipients with qualifying disabilities will be cut off from benefits before they realize they need to seek a waiver.

Link to the full report

January 10, 2020

Billboard: Leader of the Pak: Paradigm agent Ron Kaplan delivers custom backpacks to the neediest among us

By Christopher Weingarten

….The video was filmed by Citypak founder Ron Kaplan — an agent at Paradigm Talent Agency whose clients include Van Morrison, Roger Daltrey, the Steve Miller Band, Lyle Lovett and Joss Stone — while he was on vacation in Maui in December and spotted Strauss.

Kaplan has grown accustomed to seeing Citypaks in action far from his current home base in Los Angeles. Strauss’ backpack was one of over 64,000 Citypak has distributed in 142 cities and three continents since the charity’s launch in 2012…

…Kaplan’s search for a more personal connection led to a relationship with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). That’s when the idea for Citypak took hold: “A very typical scenario was that everyday [homeless] people would come in for services, get food, recycled clothing, toiletries, but they never had anything to carry their stuff in,” says Kaplan. “I thought, ‘Has anyone ever devised a way to create a backpack specifically designed for the needs of the homeless?'”

Kaplan shared the idea with the owner of adventure luggage company High Sierra, who promptly put his design team on the project. After getting the first samples of the bags — inspired by the rugged knapsacks and ponchos that soldiers used in World War II — Kaplan asked CCH to help him gather a focus group of homeless Chicagoans for lunch and a chat.

As Kaplan recalls, “Everyone flipped out. They’re saying, ‘This is a lifesaver, this is exactly what we need!’ ” Members of the focus group also gave Kaplan some crucial suggestions, like adding a waterproof pouch to the bags to protect identification and hospital records. There are also no zippers on the bag’s exterior, says Kaplan, where they might “get rusted or broken.”…

Link to the full report

January 3, 2020

Streetsblog Chicago: Homeless tents have returned next to Uptown bike lanes likely built to displace them

By John Greenfield

In late 2017, after years of complaints from Uptown residents to 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman about tent cities in the Lawrence and Wilson avenue viaducts under Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed bike lanes on the sidewalks. While so I’ve found no smoking gun proving that the city’s motivation for building the cycling infrastructure was to prevent homeless people from returning to the underpasses afterwards, it’s highly probable that was at least a factor in the decision.

Ironically, that defensive architecture strategy isn’t even working. As of this afternoon there were two tents on the south sidewalk of Lawrence, and three or four tents plus a couch and a shopping cart on the north sidewalk of Wilson. While the green bike lanes are largely clear, the encampments basically render the pedestrian portion of the sidewalk unusable. That isn’t a big deal this time of year since bike and pedestrian traffic is light, but could lead to conflicts during the warmer months…

…Former residents of the tent city, represented by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Law Project, previously sued the city over the issue, arguing that the installation of the bike lanes was discriminatory against the homeless because it was done with the sole purpose of displacing them. The lawsuit also asserted that the design of the bikeways is dangerous…

Still, Dworkin said, the practice of building sidewalk bike lanes in viaducts makes it more difficult to defend the rights of homeless people to camp there, since the tents are, in fact, blocking the public way. “We feel like there’s just not that much we can do, except asking the city not to handle homelessness this way. It’s clearly not a productive way to to handle it — you’re just chasing people off to the next spot.”

Dworkin, who commutes by bike herself, said there were also homeless people sleeping in the Metra viaduct on Randolph Street between Canal and Clinton streets in the West Loop before CDOT installed a sidewalk bike lane there in 2016. “It’s a terrible design,” she said. At rush hour you’ve got to bike through crowds of people on Randolph crossing Canal.”

On top of that, it would have been relatively easy to create protected bike lanes on the street, rather than the sidewalk, in all of these viaducts. Lawrence, Wilson, and Randolph all have multiple travel lanes, which likely provides more capacity than is needed for the amount of motor vehicle traffic they carry, which encourages speeding. So converting mixed-traffic lanes to bike lanes instead of placing the bikeways on the sidewalks would have made everyone safer, bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike.

Link to the full report

TFIL Films – Frozen to Death: Homelessness in Chicago’s Lethal Winter

TFIL Films 3rd mini-documentary. We join the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to better under the highly complicated issue that is homelessness.

These stories are unfiltered, covering a wide variety of reasons that have led to homelessness, some of which are incredibly heart breaking. TFIL Films isn’t about what’s “right or wrong” nor is it meant to skew anyone’s opinions; our goal is simply to create an unbiased and informative video that allows viewers to have a different insight to various problems or issues around the world. | Wiser. Stronger. Happier. Together.

Special thanks to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless for their help making this possible. Please visit their website for more info on volunteering, financial support or simply, to learn more. Subscribe to TFIL by clicking here:

WBBM Newsradio “At Issue” – Advocates for the homeless explode some myths about the problem & solutions

Political Editor Craig Dellimore talks with Doug Schenkelberg, the head of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and Richard Ducantanzeiler, director of the provider agency Franciscan Outreach, about the depth — and variety — of homelessness. They also talk about what the city is doing…and what everyday people can do to help.

LINK to the radio interview

Said Doug Schenkelberg, “We’re hoping to work with this administration to create a new dedicated funding stream that can create permanent housing with supports, that’s needed to begin to make measurable progress on the problem.”

Ezvid Wiki: 5 groups helping people in Chicago succeed

Rising inequality means that despite our best intentions, some people in America aren’t given the same opportunities as others. Problems like food deserts and mass incarceration contribute to the cycle of poverty, but luckily there are some amazing organizations in Chicago working to ensure that no one is left behind. These groups focus on both youth and adults to provide job training, support, and advocacy in areas where it is most needed.

Highlighted in the video are the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Growing Home, UCAN, Jane Addams Resource Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago.

LINK to the video