September/October media reports: Homeless youth funding, Logan Square sweep, homeless students & Bring Chicago Home

October 17, 2019

Vice News: More than 16,000 kids in Chicago Public Schools are homeless. Teachers just went on strike to help them.

“They end up not coming to school because they fall through the cracks.”

By Alex Lubben

One student in the Chicago school where Marcella Cadena teaches lives in a homeless shelter that only lets people in or out every hour, on the hour. And sometimes, the child can’t make it out in time — and misses class.

“Now they’re coming to school late and missing 30 minutes of instruction if they don’t make it out by 7 a.m. because they don’t have control over where they’re living,” said 4th-grade teacher Cadena, one of the 25,000 teachers in the Chicago Public Schools who went on strike Thursday.

The striking teachers in Chicago are making an unusual demand: that the country’s third-largest district do more for students who don’t have a stable roof over their heads. In addition to the standard asks of better pay and smaller class sizes, teachers want the school system to provide resources, including dedicated counselors and funding, to help both students and teachers grappling with a lack of affordable housing. Of the 300,000 students in Chicago’s public schools, an estimated 16,450 are homeless. And that’s based on students self-reporting, so it’s likely a low count.

…When one student in Chicago showed up to class without her homework, she hadn’t forgotten to do it. She tried. But she didn’t have keys to her friend’s apartment, where she was staying while her own family searched for something they could afford. And no one was at her friend’s place to let her in.

“They were always unsure night to night whether they would have housing, and they talked about how difficult it was to just study when you had no space that was your own,” Doug Schenkelberg, the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, told VICE News.

Link to the full report

October 17, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times: New proposals on the table, but Chicago teachers strike enters Day 2

By Nader Issa

…The CTU put forward a new framework for staffing demands that includes a minimum number of nurses, librarians, social workers and counselors that the district would need to hire. The union said it’s willing to phase in those positions over the term of the deal by starting at schools with high numbers of low-income students, but it said it received no substantive response.

And on affordable housing, the two sides discussed the creation of a new position that would deal solely with helping students who are homeless. Right now, a mixture of teachers, social workers and counselors help children manage those struggles. The city’s position is that only schools with 90 or more homeless students would receive that worker. The union said there were only 12 schools citywide that would meet that criteria.

Link to the full report

October 14, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times: Lightfoot takes first step to chip away at 120,000-unit shortage of affordable housing

By Fran Spielman

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday took the first step down the long road that must be traveled to chip away at a 120,000-unit shortage of affordable units now driving Chicago’s precipitous population decline.

Lightfoot started confronting the monumental challenge the same way Chicago politicians almost always confront intransigent problems — by creating a task force.

This one will include up to 20 members charged with revising an “Affordable Requirements Ordinance” that applies to developers receiving city subsidies, city land or a zoning change. They are required to make 10-to-20 percent of the units they build or renovate affordable or pay hefty fees “in lieu of” building on-site units.

…Lightfoot campaigned on a promise to impose a graduated real estate transfer tax to “create a dedicated revenue stream” to reduce homelessness by 45 percent and begin to chip away at the affordable housing shortage.

But the $838 million shortfall she claims to have inherited has apparently altered the new mayor’s game plan.

She now wants to raise the transfer tax on homes sold for over $500,000, instead of $1 million, but use some of the windfall to reduce the shortfall.

That has Novara going back to the drawing board to find other ways to solve the gentrification/affordable housing crisis that was a driving force behind the election of six aldermen backed by the Democratic Socialists of America.

Link to the full report

October 4, 2019

Chicago Tribune: As hope for new source of city money fades, Chicago youth homeless programs at risk of losing federal funding too

By Elaine Chen

After Derek Chairs was evicted from an apartment in California at 18, he bounced around from couch to couch across the country.

“I just traveled by bus, state to state, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas, Indiana,” he said. Then at 20 he landed in Chicago, where, for the first time in his adult life, he received stable housing for almost a year, through a youth homeless program called Ignite.

“That time that I see is little, they really make it matter,” Chairs said. He jump-started the process of getting his high school equivalency certificate and now has a job at Ignite’s drop-in center.

“They my family,” he said. “I always consider them to be family.”

Transitional housing programs in Chicago such as Ignite, one- to two-year programs that provide housing, financial support and casework largely for homeless youth, are increasingly at risk of losing funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, providers of the programs say.

The federal funding application for Chicago’s homeless programs submitted at the end of September places transitional housing programs at a lower priority than all other types of homeless programs that primarily serve adults.

Homeless advocates and some aldermen have called for a tax increase on real estate sales to create a city fund for homeless programs. But Mayor Lori Lightfoot over the summer began considering using the proposed increase to balance the city’s budget instead.

Link to the full report

September 30, 2019

The Golden Mean on Apple Podcasts: July interview with CCH Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg

Link to the podcast

September 25, 2019

Block Club Chicago: People living outside vacant Logan Square bank lose everything after city workers toss belongings – homeless advocates

By Mina Bloom

LOGAN SQUARE — A group of people living on an abandoned bank property at Western and Armitage avenues in Logan Square had their personal belongings thrown out during a city cleanup last week.

“I’m frustrated by how it went down because it was very outside of what our expectations were,” Ald. Daniel La Spata said. La Spata’s 1st Ward includes the former MB Financial Bank property at 2000 N. Western Ave.

“Our expectations were that they were going to clean and sanitize the space. … The way they were treated, the way their personal items were discarded, particularly for the folks who weren’t there and didn’t have a choice, was deeply frustrating,” the alderman said.

The cleanup happened around 9 a.m. Sept. 17, according to La Spata. Police and city workers were on the scene, according to photos shared with Block Club Chicago.

The workers threw out personal items belonging to three or four people experiencing homelessness. Only one of them was on the property when the cleanup occurred. The rest were not there when their personal items were thrown out, according to La Spata and Diane O’ Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Link to the full report

September 5, 2019

WTTW: Aldermen, advocates want city tax to support homeless students, families

By Matt Masterson

More than 16,000 Chicago Public Schools students dealt with some form of homelessness last school year, a majority of whom lived in 10 predominantly South and West side wards. Now, Chicago aldermen and a local nonprofit are calling on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to support what they believe could be an “immediate solution.”

Members of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless on Thursday asked the mayor to back an increase to the city’s real estate transfer tax and use those funds to directly address homelessness affecting families and students.

Advocates say a stable local funding stream is necessary because the vast majority of local homeless families aren’t eligible for federal benefits.

“There’s really very little that anyone can do right now with the current resources to lead the charge on this because there simply is no available housing,” Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, told WTTW News. “We have thousands of people on the waitlists for public housing, there’s very little turnover in our existing permanent supportive housing units.

“Most of those are for single adults … the federal government has prioritized single adults over families for many years. So very, very few of those units are for families and then on top of that, the vast majority of families that are homeless are not eligible.

Link to the full report

September 5, 2019

Chicago Tribune: In Chicago, more than 16,000 students are homeless, new report says: ‘I felt very embarrassed to tell people’

By Hannah Leone

Inside his old running shoes, blood streaked Dontay Lockett’s toenails. His track coach at Chicago’s Lake View High School noticed when he took off the sneakers, which were several sizes too small. The high school junior had been wearing the same pair since seventh grade.

The coach who found him new shoes had also slowly gained his trust. When he finally told her he was living in a shelter, she had already figured it out.

Students in temporary living situations rarely self-identify, according to advocates. Lockett, now 22, said he didn’t like his classmates and teachers to know he was homeless. But his situation is hardly unique.

More than 16,450 Chicago Public Schools students didn’t have a permanent home during the 2018-19 school year, according to numbers released Thursday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Most were in temporary living situations, meaning they stayed in shelters, motels, cars or, in about 90% of the cases, “doubled up” with others, according to the coalition. Doubling up doesn’t generally meet the federal government’s definition of homelessness, so people in those situations don’t qualify for federal programs for those without homes.

About half of the city’s homeless students were in 10 of the city’s 50 wards, according to the coalition’s data. At least 865 were believed to be living in Ald. Walter Burnett’s 27th Ward. Burnett spoke at a homeless coalition news conference Thursday at City Hall to plug a proposed increase to the real estate transfer tax on properties worth more than $1 million to address the situation.

“We need to put the people first,” Burnett said. “We need to help the needy and not the greedy.”

The advocates’ proposed 1.2 percentage point increase could generate about $150 million that could be used to reduce homelessness. The coalition said that’s 10 times as much funding as what’s already dedicated to the issue.

Link to the full report

September 5, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘The kids and I were sleeping in the car’: CPS parents, students talk about being homeless, urge Lightfoot to keep campaign promise

By Fran Spielman

As the mother of six, the grandmother of nine and a victim of foreclosure, Bridgette Barber knows the pain of homelessness and the devastating impact it has on kids.

So does Lake View H.S. graduate Dontay Lockett. His “downward spiral” — to “three different states and four different high schools” — began when he, his mom and his sister were kicked out of the house by his mom’s ex-boyfriend.

On Thursday, Barber and Lockett told their stories at a City Hall news conference called to keep the heat on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deliver on her campaign promise to create a “dedicated revenue stream” to combat homelessness.

Barber spoke haltingly and through tears about the ordeal that began with a 2014 foreclosure.

“The kids and I were sleeping in the car. Hotels. On the floor of friends’ homes. We started going from house to house and living doubled up. It would become hard to bring the kids to school,” said Barber, the legal guardian of two grandchildren attending Chicago Public Schools.

Link to the full report

Washington Post: Chicago teachers’ strike demands include push for affordable housing to help homeless students

By Kim Bellware

For the first time in seven years, teachers in the third-largest U.S. school district are expected to go on strike Thursday after contract negotiations between Chicago city officials and the Chicago Teachers Union hit a stalemate Tuesday night. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday morning that classes at Chicago public schools will be canceled Thursday in anticipation of the strike.

Along with familiar issues such as contract length, benefits and class sizes, one of the core demands of the teachers union is not explicitly about their work environment but rather community justice: access to affordable housing.

Link to the full report

Doug Schenkelberg, executive director for the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless, notes that roughly 81 percent of CPS homeless population are black students, although they constitute little more than a third of the overall student population.

According to the district’s 2018 figures, more than 16,450 of its students experience some form of homelessness — and that’s a conservative estimate, Schenkelberg said.

…Teachers are demanding that the city commit to creating sustainable housing, housing subsidies for lower-paid school staffers such as aides, and a support system for homeless students.

…“It’s generally accepted that within the school system, it’s important to make sure kids are fed,” Schenkelberg said, citing federally funded breakfast and lunch programs. “We know whether a kid has access to healthy food impacts their educational opportunities. That’s a generally accepted principle; there’s no reason we shouldn’t be talking about housing in the same way.”

Illinois Radio Network: Lottery to donate to homeless initiative

By Greg Bishop

The Illinois Lottery is doing its part to address homelessness by setting aside profits from a newly launched scratch-off game to assist those in need.

Proceeds from the Easy as 123 scratch-off ticket, which was launched Sept. 3, will go to the Homeless Prevention Revenue Fund and will be used by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Niya Kelly, state legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, told her during a speaking engagement at Loyola University three years ago that he wanted to do a scratch-off game to address homelessness and sustain the 20-year-old Homeless Prevention Revenue Fund. Kelly and Jones worked on the item’s language together.

“We were able to pass it through the General Assembly, hopeful that this money would be able to ensure that across the state, someone falling on hard times doesn’t end up experiencing homelessness,” Kelly said.

The Homeless Prevention Revenue Fund provides assistance with rent and utilities in addition to support services.

“This money actually goes to continuums of care throughout the state and they are responsible for finding agencies that provide assistance,” Kelly said.

LINK to the radio report

The 45-year-old lottery system, operated by Camelot Illinois, has released instant games to benefit charitable organizations and first responders, but the Easy as 123 game marks the first time it has tackled homelessness, which Kelly said is a unique initiative for the lottery.

“There are specialty games, but there hasn’t been one that has addressed homelessness,” she said.

The Easy as 123 tickets cost $2, with $20,000 being the maximum amount players can win.

Kelly said she hopes the game catches on.

“The money goes towards an amazing, successful program,” she said. “We save so much money by keeping people housed than having them experience homelessness.”

WBEZ, Curious City: To help homeless kids in Chicago, first you have to find them

 

Link to the 8-minute report

Streeterville resident Dorothy Lam says she’s seen homeless children cuddled up in their parents laps in the doorways of downtown Chicago more than once. But she didn’t think about the total number of homeless kids in the city until she was expecting a child of her own.

So she came to Curious City with a question:

How many homeless kids are there in Chicago, and what can I do to help?

Turns out, that depends on who you ask. Estimates range dramatically, from 1,215 to 20,779. And the number of runaways or kids without a guardian ranges from 6,745 to just seven.

It’s easy to quickly get lost in these numbers, but they have a real human impact. That’s because estimates of Chicago’s homeless population dictate federal funding, and low numbers mean fewer shelter beds, food and social workers available to help these kids survive.

Hard to Find

To get a community the funding it needs to fight homelessness, federal agencies have to know how large is the homeless population. So the first step in fighting homelessness is counting the homeless.

Here’s the problem: Most children facing homelessness — about 81 percent, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless — are living in homes. They’re just not in their homes. They’re called “doubled-up,” meaning they’re staying with friends and relatives, typically until welcomes are worn out. Although the federal definition of homelessness has included this perpetually couch-surfing population since 2001, they often don’t make it into the official federal tally simply because they are more difficult to find.

In an attempt to estimate the homeless population in any given city, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires what’s called a point-in-time count. Every year, every shelter must turn over the tally of people who slept in shelter beds on a given night in late January. And every other year, communities must also send out volunteers to try and count every person sleeping on the streets on that same night (although Chicago and many other communities choose to do that in-person count yearly).

In 2018, the shelters and volunteers counted 5,450 homeless people in Chicago, 1,215 of whom were children.

But the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless believes that figure is a significant undercount. Through a combination of estimates and Census data, they believe there to be 86,324 homeless people — 20,799 of whom are kids — in Chicago. That’s more than 17 times the size of the point-in-time tally for the under-18 age group.

According to the coalition, about a third of all homeless kids are unaccompanied minors…

LINK to read/listen to the rest of the WBEZ report.

July/August media reports: Panhandling bans unconstitutional, ‘the working homeless,’ HRDI tenants to be displaced, employed and educated people are homeless, too

August 27, 2019

The Southern Illinoisan: Carbondale City Council votes to eliminate panhandling prohibition

By Isaac Smith

CARBONDALE — After receiving a letter a year ago from the American Civil Liberties Union, the City of Carbondale has decided to repeal its panhandling ordinance.

Last year, the ACLU co-signed a letter with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless condemning the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and threatened legal action if it was not repealed. The ACLU sent a follow-up letter to the city last month.

When asked for comment on the decision to repeal the ordinance, Diane O’Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, reiterated the legal reasons for the letter.

“Carbondale is the eleventh city in Illinois to have repealed its panhandling ordinance in the past year. The US Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to ask for help, and these ordinances violated that mandate,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.

Link to the full report

August 25, 2019

WGN Radio: Panhandlers have constitutional rights too

Panhandling is a right to free speech and is guaranteed by the 1st Amendment to the United States and Illinois Constitutions. Diane O’Connell, a lawyer with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless joins WGN Radio’s Karen Conti to discuss the recent lawsuit against the Village of Downer’s Grove regarding their panhandling laws along with what is and is not constitutional when it comes to panhandling.

Link to the radio interview

August 21, 2019

The New Republic: The New American Homeless

Housing insecurity in the nation’s richest cities is far worse than government statistics claim. Just ask the Goodmans.

By Brian Goldstone

Last August, Cokethia Goodman returned home from work to discover a typed letter from her landlord in the mailbox. She felt a familiar panic as she began to read it. For nearly a year, Goodman and her six children—two of them adopted after being abandoned at birth—had been living in a derelict but functional three-bedroom house in the historically black Peoplestown neighborhood of Atlanta. Goodman, who is 50, has a reserved, vigilant demeanor, her years trying to keep the kids out of harm’s way evident in her perpetually narrowed eyes. She saw the rental property as an answer to prayer. It was in a relatively safe area and within walking distance of the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy, the public elementary school her youngest son and daughter attended. It was also—at $950 a month, not including utilities—just barely affordable on the $9 hourly wage she earned as a full-time home health aide. Goodman had fled an abusive marriage in 2015, and she was anxious to give her family a more stable home environment. She thought they’d finally found one.
..

…Goodman’s predicament is increasingly common as the ranks of the working homeless multiply. The present support system, according to advocacy groups, effectively ignores scores of homeless families—excluding them from public discourse and locking them out of crucial support. This is due, in large part, to the way that HUD tallies and defines homelessness. Every January, in roughly 400 communities across the country, a battalion of volunteers, service providers, and government employees sets out to conduct the annual homeless census, referred to as the Point-in-Time count. Usually undertaken late at night and into the early morning, the HUD-overseen census is meant to provide a comprehensive snapshot of homelessness in America: its hot spots and demographics, its causes and magnitude. Last year, on the basis of this data, HUD reported a 23 percent decline in the number of families with children experiencing homelessness since 2007. The only problem, according to critics, is that HUD’s definition of “homeless,” and thus the scope of its Point-in-Time count, is severely limited, restricted to people living in shelters or on the streets. Everyone else—those crammed into apartments with others, or living in cars or hotels—is rendered doubly invisible: at once hidden from sight and disregarded by the official reporting metrics.

Julie Dworkin, the director of policy at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, has called attention to the profound consequences of this neglect. Not only are families denied housing assistance from HUD and its local partners, but, as the federal agency’s figures make their way into the media, the true scale and nature of the crisis is also obscured. In 2016, Dworkin and her colleagues began conducting their own survey of Chicago’s homeless population, expanding it beyond the HUD census to include families doubled up with others. Their total was twelve times that of the Point-in-Time count: 82,212 versus 6,786. “The idea that these families aren’t ‘actually’ homeless because they’re not in shelters is absurd,” Dworkin told me. “Oftentimes the shelters are full, or there simply are no family shelters—in which case, all these people are essentially abandoned by the system.” She noted the myth that families with children living in doubled-up arrangements are somehow less vulnerable than those in shelters, when these conditions can be just as detrimental to a child’s education, mental and physical health, and long-term development…

Link to the full article

August 21, 2019

WBBM Newsradio: Downers Grove sued over panhandling ordinance

By Craig Dellimore

Advocates for the homeless and free speech are suing the Village of Downers Grove and say the local government is unconstitutionally restricting homeless people from asking for help at intersections.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the American Civil Liberties Union are representing two men whom they say have been ticketed and prosecuted for asking for money at Butterfield and Finley Roads.

Link to the full radio report

August 21, 2019

Daily Herald: ACLU sues Downers Grove, says panhandling prohibition is unconstitutional

By Susan Sarkauskas

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Law Project for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless are suing Downers Grove, saying the village’s law against panhandling at intersections is unconstitutional.

The two plaintiffs — both men — have the free-speech right to ask for help, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court. The men do so by holding up cardboard signs, often standing on medians at the busy intersection of Butterfield and Finley roads, according to the lawsuit.

Link to the full report

August 2, 2019

Chicago Sun-Times: Former homeless in Chicago now facing the prospect of losing their apartments

By Mark Brown, columnist

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea: Evaluate all agencies every year that provide services to the homeless, then steer limited federal dollars to those with the best track record of helping people.

But what happens to the people served by a program that gets thrown by the wayside when its funding is directed elsewhere?

For 43 individuals who for many years have received housing under a program operated by Chicago’s Human Resources Development Institute Inc., that seemingly good idea has turned their lives upside-down.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the Chicago social services agency that it no longer would get funding for a program to provide apartments and supportive services to those 43 clients because other agencies had higher performance ratings.

As a result, most of those served by the program are faced, at best, with being displaced from their apartments — and potentially with the loss of any housing support.

We’re talking about people who previously were homeless. Many have disabilities. Some have children. That’s why they were accepted into the program in the first place.

Their problems haven’t disappeared. But, as of the end of June, the federal government’s commitment to house them has.

Link to the full report

July 7, 2019

NBC5: 13,000 of Chicago’s homeless had jobs

Around 18,000 of Chicago’s homeless had a college education in 2017 and more than 13,000 had jobs, according to a study that challenges stereotypes about homelessness.

The report, published Tuesday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, examined census data from that year. It shows around 86,000 people experienced homelessness in Chicago at some point during that year, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Chicago’s homeless population is substantially larger than indicated by the point-in-time tally that the city conducts annually, because the count doesn’t include people who are “doubled up,” or residing in the homes of others, according to the group that says it advocates to prevent and end homelessness.

“Now we have a way to talk about the full scope of homelessness in Chicago,” said Julie Dworkin, the coalition’s policy director. “The point-in-time count doesn’t capture the way most people experience homelessness. Being able to quantify that has really pushed the envelope in Chicago in terms of the city thinking about what resources are necessary to address it.”

Link to the full report

July 3, 2019

New study shows many of Chicago’s homeless have jobs, some college education

By Stephanie Kim

More than 86,000 people in Chicago experience homelessness. And yet, thousands of them have a job or have received some college education.

That’s according to a new study released on Tuesday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit targets the lack of affordable housing in metropolitan Chicago and across Illinois.

Morning Shift checks in with the coalition for more on their new report and their work around combating homelessness in the city.

GUEST: Julie Dworkin, policy director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless & Edrika Fulford, a volunteer leader for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

Link to the radio interview

July 2, 2019

Chicago Tribune: Thousands of Chicago’s homeless have jobs, some education, contrary to stereotypes, new study says

By Peter Nickeas

A report to be released Tuesday by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that 18,000 homeless people in the city have completed some college and another 13,400 have some form of employment.

Rauquaia Hale-Wallace, 49, of Chicago, is one of them. She’s trained as an opera singer and her husband has a job in the transportation industry, but the couple has experienced homelessness…

Hale-Wallace is among about 86,000 people who experienced homelessness in Chicago, according to the coalition’s study, which analyzed 2017 census data. Chicago’s homeless population, according to advocates, is significantly higher than the point-in-time count the city conducts every January because that tally doesn’t include people who are “doubled up,” or staying, in the homes of other people. According to the coalition’s analysis, about 22,500 people were served by shelters in 2017 and 6,300 of them had been doubled-up at some point that year.

The last point-in-time count for which results are available, from January 2018, showed more than 5,000 people living in shelters or in places not suited for human habitation. According to the coalition, 4 out of 5 homeless people fall into the “doubled up” category, defined by the coalition as “taking shelter in another household due to a loss of their own housing.”

“Now we have a way to talk about the full scope of homelessness in Chicago,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “The point-in-time count doesn’t … capture the way most people experience homelessness. Being able to quantify that has really pushed the envelope in Chicago in terms of the city thinking about what resources are necessary to address it. If you’re only thinking about 5,000 people, you’re thinking about a very different amount of money than if you have 80,000 people.”

The coalition supports an increase in the real estate transfer tax to help people like Hale-Wallace, who the group made available to the Tribune for an interview. The tax could raise up to $200 million to spend on programs to combat homelessness, Dworkin said.

Link to the full report

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

The falling out between the new mayor and the Bring Chicago Home coalition that once regarded her as an important ally comes as Lightfoot prepares for an Aug. 29 bad news budget presentation that is bound to leave additional constituencies disenchanted.

By Mark Brown

The honeymoon is coming to a rocky end for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

On Tuesday, leaders of a campaign to use a Chicago real estate transfer tax increase to fund an aggressive effort to reduce homelessness slammed the new mayor for abandoning their cause now that she’s eyeing the same revenue source to help balance her first budget.

“We’re deeply disappointed that Mayor Lightfoot broke her campaign promise to support the Bring Chicago Home proposal. In addition, she did so without making any attempt first to collaborate with the community,” said Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, accusing the mayor of “business-as-usual” politics.

The falling out between the new mayor and the Bring Chicago Home coalition that once regarded her as an important ally comes as Lightfoot prepares for an August 29 bad news budget presentation that is bound to leave additional constituencies disenchanted.

During the mayoral campaign, Lightfoot burnished her progressive credentials by repeatedly promising support for a plan patterned after the one advanced by Bring Chicago Home — using funds from a tax on the sale of high-end real estate to support construction of affordable housing and expand homeless services. Her housing transition team listed it as a priority.

Since the election, however, Lightfoot has given the group conflicting signals, encouraging them to continue their efforts to seek a binding referendum while warning that the city’s fiscal problems were worse than former Mayor Rahm Emanuel had made known.

Any hope the mayor still intended to keep her promise vanished after an interview last week with city Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara by Sun-Times’ City Hall reporter Fran Spielman in which Novara began laying the groundwork for the boss’ reversal.

The Sun-Times reported Lightfoot now is planning to ask the General Assembly to authorize the city to raise the transfer tax on $1 million-plus properties — without going through a referendum. But she wants to use the anticipated $120 million revenue to help close the $1 billion budget hole created in large part by scheduled contributions due the city’s underfunded pension plans…

Link to the full report

Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, Sanctuary: Interview with Doug Schenkelberg

In the August edition of Sanctuary, Nisan Chavkin, Executive Director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, talks with the Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Doug Schenkelberg, about the people who experience homelessness and how we can address this dire situation in our community. Also featured is the annual Interfaith Memorial Observance for Indigent Persons.

Crain’s Chicago Business, Doug Schenkelberg: Chicago, let’s be a leader on solving homelessness

By Doug Schenkelberg, CCH Executive Director

On any given day, you can walk through the Loop or under viaducts throughout our city and see people struggling with homelessness. However upsetting it is to witness their suffering, it is more heartbreaking to know that these people reflect the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Chicago’s homelessness problem.

More than 86,000 people experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2017, according to the most recent census data. And nearly 80 percent are hidden from public view because their homelessness is experienced by staying doubled-up (if not tripled or quadrupled) with friends, family or strangers.

Too little affordable housing, insufficient living-wage work, physical and mental health ailments, and struggles with substance use are some of the reasons people face housing instability. Few realize that 1 in 5 Chicago adults who are homeless are employed. And 1 in 4 have some level of college education. More than 20,000 Chicago children strive to stay in school while couch-hopping night to night.

Moreover, homelessness has a disparate impact on people of color, with 4 out of 5 people experiencing homelessness being black or brown.

The reasons people become homeless are complex, but the solution is straightforward — permanent housing with supportive services. It is a proven model that brings people out of homelessness and keeps them out.

Crain’s – Mark Grapengater/Flickr

But inadequate resources and a historic lack of political will to secure sufficient resources keep us from moving forward. Chicago ranks near the bottom in both total and per capita spending on homelessness when compared to our peer cities. Moreover, the federal funding that Chicago receives to stem homelessness cannot be used to help the largest share of people who are homeless in our city—those who live doubled-up.

What Chicago needs is dedicated funding at a scale that can have a measurable impact on reducing homelessness. Fortunately, there is an ordinance pending in the City Council that would do just that. Backed by the Bring Chicago Home coalition of over 80 community advocates and civic groups, this measure would dramatically increase funding to combat homelessness through an increase in the city’s one-time real estate transfer tax applied exclusively to properties sold for more than $1 million.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot should fully embrace this progressive revenue increase, both because she included this proposal in her platform as a candidate and because a poll conducted for my organization showed that two-thirds of likely Chicago voters say they would support a referendum authorizing it.

Too often the refrain is, “We know homelessness is a problem, but we will get to it after dealing with these other issues.” Continually deferring solutions to homelessness only lets the problem fester. Mayor Lightfoot can take a different path. Make Chicago the shining example of how a major city tackles homelessness. The time is now.

Also in the Crain’s series on Homelessness

Christine Achre, Primo Center for Women and Children: Homeless children should remain front-and-center in fight to end homelessness

Janet L. Smith, Vorhees Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago: When it comes to homelessness, prevention is the best policy

Chicago Tribune, Mary Schmich – ‘My family is my heart’: How Tavarion Foster made his way from homelessness to college

By Mary Schmich

On a Thursday night in late June, Tavarion Laquon Foster put on his best clothes — khaki pants, black loafers, black shirt buttoned almost to the top — and went downtown to celebrate his college scholarship from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Growing up, Tavarion hadn’t thought of himself as homeless. He was 6 years old when he began going to sleep at night without a bed to call his own, but in his mind, moving from home to home, and bed to bed, was just life.

That evening at the scholarship ceremony he sat in the front row, leaning forward to listen to the other winners. It felt good to be with people whose lives weren’t so different from his.

There was a young woman who’d lived in shelters and in homes without hot water. There was a young man who had to switch schools every time he switched houses. One student had moved from Louisiana to her aunt’s home in Evanston only to have the family evicted.

When Tavarion’s moment at the lectern came, he stepped forward and began with thank you’s to the coalition, to his mentor and to the woman snapping photos from one of the guest seats.

Tavarion Foster, 18, with his mother, Shaunte Teague. (Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

“My beautiful mother,” he told the crowd, without explaining how extraordinary it was that the two of them were in this room, and for this purpose, together.

Chicago Sun-Times, Marlen Garcia: Money shouldn’t decide whether a kid can walk across a graduation stage

It isolates kids from their classmates. It shames them.

By Marlen Garcia, columnist

Geneva Baggett’s family had a milestone event to look forward to this spring.

Her daughter and a niece that Baggett is raising are 8th graders who will graduate next month from McKay School on the Southwest Side.

OPINION

The family’s excitement soon turned to dread. Baggett owed $300 for each child to cover graduation fees. She found out about it weeks ago when the children’s teacher sent home a flyer outlining the fees along with a handwritten note to “verify that these graduation fees” were owed.

The teacher should have included another important piece of information: By law, public school fees, including the costs of graduation ceremonies, must be waived for families who are homeless. Additionally, fees must be waived for kids who are eligible for the federal free lunch and breakfast program. Many school districts, including Chicago Public Schools, waive fees for students who pay reduced prices for lunch and others who live in poverty.

Too many teachers and school administrators across Illinois don’t know about these rules or ignore them. They lead parents to believe that their children won’t be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies if they don’t pay the fees.

Baggett has hit hard times and her family is homeless. She was under the impression that her daughter and niece couldn’t participate in graduation if she didn’t pay the fees. Eventually, she sought assistance from the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which assisted her in getting a fee waiver from the school.

But she still isn’t feeling any sense of relief. The school has asked for more money to cover a graduation trip and luncheon.

“I don’t understand,” she says.

During graduation season, too many families believe they have to decide between covering their rent or paying school fees so their children can be part of graduation ceremonies. But it is against the law to punish a child in any way over unpaid fees if the family can’t afford them. And make no mistake, barring a child from graduation, prom or a Great America trip over unpaid fees is punishment.

It isolates kids from their classmates. It shames them.

Another parent I spoke with, a single mom, said a staff member at Hyde Park Academy High School told her that her son could not participate in that school’s graduation unless she paid fees he had accumulated over four years at the school. She had a bill for $848.

The mom, who asked that her name be withheld, said that after she lost her job she couldn’t keep up with the school’s fees. She said she asked a school administrator if she could get financial assistance but the administrator said no. I reached out to the school’s principal, Antonio Ross, but he didn’t return my call or email.

The woman turned to Google for help and came across the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The organization’s law department specializes in advocating for homeless students and others who live in poverty. A lawyer sent a letter explaining the parent’s situation, and the matter was quickly resolved.

“Schools are usually responsive once they get a letter,” the lawyer, Alyssa Phillips, told me.

Ninety-six percent of the students at Hyde Park come from low-income families, according to Chicago Public Schools. I’m guessing many of those students qualify to have their fees waived. Many families probably don’t know it.

Hyde Park charges students annual fees of $200 for books, lab fees, computer software and other supplies. Families also pay $15 for each school uniform shirt, $20 for a gym uniform and $40 for a cell phone locker. Public school can be pretty expensive. It’s easy to see how a family of modest means could have trouble keeping up.

Each year around this time, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless fields dozens of calls from parents who are broke and worried their children will be barred from graduation over unpaid fees.

Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the coalition’s Law Project, told me there are several schools that have had multiple cases of kids needing assistance for fee waivers in the last two years, including Hyde Park Academy, Kenwood High School, South Shore International High School, Morgan Park High School and Wells High School. The organization also handles cases from students at suburban schools.

Kenwood’s information sheet for Class of 2019 events says, “All existing school fees must be paid before any payments for senior activities will be accepted.” There’s no mention of waivers.

Here’s a reminder to every school: If you’re going to hit parents with invoices or price lists, whether it’s at the start of the school year or before graduation, include a note telling them that if they can’t afford the fees, they should seek a waiver.

Then follow through and help them out.

Marlen Garcia writes a weekly column and is a member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.