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

November/December media reports: Cold weather impacts Chicago’s homeless, Uptown displacement, Homeless Memorial

December 19, 2019

Block Club Chicago: ‘If We Don’t Remember Them, Who Will?’ : Service Honors Those Who Died While Homeless in Chicago This Year

“We’re the most vulnerable people in the city and nobody thinks about us and then we die. … Somebody has to represent that population and remember them.”

By Helena Duncan

WEST LOOP — On a frigid Tuesday evening, activists, parishioners and people experiencing homelessness filled the pews of Old St. Patrick’s Church in the West Loop.

It was the ninth Chicago Annual Homeless Persons’ Memorial, a collaboration among the Chicago Coalition for the HomelessFranciscan Outreach, the Ignatian Spirituality Project, Old St. Patrick’s Church and the musical nonprofit Harmony, Hope & Healing.

The service honors the lives of those who died in Chicago this year while experiencing homelessness. Sixty-six names were printed in this year’s bulletin, along with “those whose names are known only to God.”

Keith Freeman, senior organizer for the Coalition for the Homeless, helped compile the list of people who had died while homeless in 2019 by speaking with shelters, homeless services providers, family members and friends.

“We’re the most vulnerable people in the city and nobody thinks about us and then we die,” said Freeman, who was formerly homeless. “They still don’t think about us. So somebody has to represent that population and remember them because they were great people.” …

… Leanna Majors clapped and sang along to the music and filmed parts of the service on her phone. Her reason for attending was simple: “To remember the homeless that have passed on is really important. If we don’t remember them, who will?”

The service was also a call to action. Freeman echoed Harris’ message, saying people who want to help the homeless must become politically involved by contacting elected officials to “move different campaigns and proposals forward to help increase funding and resources for the homeless population.”

The Bring Chicago Home campaign, backed by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, is one such proposal, calling for a dedicated revenue stream to reduce homelessness and build more affordable housing by raising the city’s real estate transfer tax on the sale of high-end homes…

Link to the full report

December 17, 2019

ABC7 Chicago: Chicago homeless living in Uptown tent city say city has targeted them for years

By Evelyn Holmes

CHICAGO (WLS) — Residents of the tent city underneath the viaduct at Wilson Avenue and Lake Shore Drive in Uptown say the city of Chicago has tried to kick them out for years, but they’re not moving without a fight.

Members of that homeless community said no one wants to live on the street; they only do because they have to, and they need safe, affordable housing in order to get off the streets. Now those residents say they may now have one less concern after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider whether state and local governments can make it a crime for people to sleep outside.

“It’s not a crime to live in a tent,’ said Thomas Gordon, Uptown tent city mayor. “It’s not a crime to be homeless. But you come out and harass us all the time.”

Although the 9th Circuit Court decision affects states out west, Patricia Nix-Hodes with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said the court’s decision has reach, and is both a victory and an opportunity.

“So it doesn’t necessarily address every single thing that a city might do that would harass someone who is homeless, but I think the concept, the analysis, does apply,” she said.

The people who live under the Uptown viaduct said their presence has been disputed for years. They accused the city of illegally targeting the homeless for removal, but city officials said while being homeless isn’t a crime there has to be a balance between the rights of the homeless and the community.

“So we do come in and we clean because it’s healthy for the participants who are living there to be in a clean environment,” said Alisa Rodriguez, deputy commissioner for the Department of Family and Support Services.

While city officials said they’ve always maintained a commitment to respecting the rights of this vulnerable population, homeless advocates like Joseph Peery said what’s needed is more affordable housing.

“If your only crime is you’re poor, that’s no crime,” he said.

Link to the full report & video

November 13, 2019

Block Club Chicago: ‘It’s going to be a long winter’: As Chicago’s homeless navigate extreme cold, advocacy group urges city to do more

By Mina Bloom

AVONDALE — On Monday, which saw record-breaking low temperatures, Lisa Johnson was bundled up in two shirts, two sweatshirts, three pairs of pants and two jackets.

Johnson lives underneath the viaduct at Belmont Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway along with about a dozen other people experiencing homelessness. She said she’s been “thinking a lot lately” about what this winter has in store for her.

“I do worry. October it snowed, and it’s so cold already. I keep saying: It’s going to be a long winter,” Johnson said…

…Mary Tarullo, associate director of policy and strategy at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said the city isn’t doing enough to keep people like Johnson safe in the extreme cold.

“Homelessness is a problem with a clear solution and that solution is housing,” Tarullo said. “The city is woefully behind when it comes to funding [that housing.]”

Tarullo’s group has been pushing the city to adopt its Bring Chicago Home plan for over a year. The plan calls for raising the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales and then using that money to fund affordable housing and homeless services…

…Tarullo said hand warmers and hot meals only go so far, especially when a polar vortex hits.

“The city does acknowledge when the temperature drops and that they need to increase their services but without a significant amount of funding to actually give people what they need to survive the winter and to survive year-round, there’s only so much you can do,” she said…

…“We’ve been working on this structural solution — Bring Chicago Home — for over a year now. We’ve been fighting for this with urgency. This solution is within our reach and we need it to happen immediately,” Tarullo said.

“We cannot go another year without a dedicated revenue stream for homelessness in Chicago.”

Link to the full report

November 12, 2019

Reuters: Chicago’s cold blast spells concern for the city’s homeless

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Homeless advocates in Chicago were closely monitoring wind chill temperatures on Tuesday as an early season blast of arctic air swept across the eastern two-thirds of the United States.

The city of Chicago, where 86,000 homeless people live, opened its six warming shelters over the last few days as unseasonably cold temperatures dipped into the teens with wind chills into the single digits during the morning, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).

“It’s incredibly concerning that we are experiencing this level of cold this early in the season,” said Doug Schenkelberg, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless…

… About 16,000 people sleep each night on the Chicago streets and shelters, Schenkelberg said. He added that the key to dealing with homelessness in extreme weather conditions ultimately is finding permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

“It’s never an easy time to be homeless regardless of the weather and when you add extreme weather like this into the mix, it makes life that much more difficult for people experiencing it,” he said.

Link to the full report


November 9, 2019

USA Today: Chicago weather – arctic blast to affect more than 80,000 experiencing homelessness

While double-digit temperatures may be balmy by Chicago standards, cold fronts this early in the season could be particularly challenging for the more than 80,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness.

By Grace Hauck

A record-breaking cold front is expected to sweep across the U.S. from Sunday into Tuesday, with freezing temperatures stretching as far south as parts of the Gulf Coast.

The National Weather Service is forecasting more than 170 potential record-setting cold high temperatures Monday to Wednesday…

… While double-digit temperatures may be balmy by Chicago standards, cold fronts this early in the season could be particularly challenging for the more than 80,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness.

“This type of weather starting this early in the season makes their lives that much more difficult,” said Doug Schenkelberg, director of the advocacy group Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Link to the full report


November 5, 2019

Associated Press: Strike-ending deal will shape Chicago schools for years

By Kathleen Foody

Chicago teachers and more than 300,000 students affected by an 11-day strike returned to classrooms Friday amid a tentative agreement that ended the walkout and is expected to shape education in the nation’s third-largest city for the next five years…

…The tentative agreement also includes phased-in hiring of additional staff for the city’s neediest schools. Principals working with other school employees will decide what type of position is needed at their school, including counselors or librarians…

…”I do think this agreement reinforces the symbolic idea that teachers have a critical role to play in ensuring the broader well-being of the students and communities they’re serving,” said John Rogers, a professor of education at the University of California Los Angeles. “That work emerged from the strike stronger.”

The district also agreed to hire staff at schools with high numbers of students who are homeless, dedicated to making sure they are getting services required under federal law.

Enshrining those positions in a labor contract is believed to be a national first, said Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the Law Project at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“I think it’s visionary,” she said. “A significant number of students in Chicago Public Schools are dealing with homelessness and housing instability, and you can’t separate that from their education.”..

Link to the full report

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

There is no official list of homeless deaths in Chicago. But, for going on 10 years, a coalition of service providers and advocacy groups has tried to make sure those lives are recognized.

By Mark Brown, columnist

Robert Rohdenburg and Robert Whited are two of the people I normally might have expected to see at the Chicago Homeless Persons Memorial this Tuesday evening at Old St. Patrick’s Church.

The two men overcame homelessness and became eager advocates for others in their situation, finding purpose in their lives by volunteering in support of affordable housing efforts.

Unfortunately, instead of joining in the prayers this year, Rohdenburg and Whited are among the dead who will be recognized at the annual service that seeks to honor the homeless men and women who lost their lives in the previous year.

There is no official list of homeless deaths in Chicago. But, for going on 10 years, a coalition of homeless service providers and advocacy groups has gathered whatever names and information they can find to make sure those lives are recognized.

The names are read aloud. A candle is lit for each.

It can be a haunting ceremony, especially coming during the Christmas season.

It’s also an important reminder that the people we call “the homeless” are really a collection of individuals from different backgrounds and with different challenges, not unlike the rest of us.

I met Rohdenburg in 2013 when the Chateau Hotel in Lakeview was in its death throes.

The Chateau was one of many North Side single-room occupancy, or SRO, hotels bought by developers over the past decade and remade into upscale apartments for young professionals…

Robert Whited, at right in stocking cap, at a Cubs game with a group from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, for which he became an active volunteer. He was part of a group seeking to improve conditions for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Link to the full report

… Though their backgrounds were different, Whited’s story had similarities to Rohdenburg’s. He’d been homeless, living on the street or doubled-up with friends, for many years, that is when he wasn’t detained at the Cook County Jail on minor offenses.

Whited had substance-abuse issues and health problems that included diabetes. He also was dealing with complications from a bad case of frostbite.

Last winter, he got involved through the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in a group working to improve the situation of individuals re-entering the community from jail or prison.

Like Rohdenburg, Whited threw himself at the chance to make a contribution, accompanying the group on four trips to Springfield to lobby legislators. Unlike most people placed in that situation, he wasn’t intimidated, either.

“The moment he saw a legislator, he just ran to catch up with them,” said Bisma Shoukat, an organizer for the coalition.

Whited even chaired the last meeting he attended with the re-entry group.

“You could just see how excited he was to be a leader,” Shoukat said.

… As the two Roberts remind us, every life deserves recognition.

Link to the full report

Crain’s Chicago Business, Op-Ed: A way to reduce homelessness – and the deficit – here

There is a way to amend the mayor’s proposed real estate transfer tax increase to produce a win-win outcome for both deficit reduction and homelessness relief.

State Sen. Ram Villivalam
State Sen. Robert Peters
State Rep. Will Guzzardi
State Rep. Delia Ramirez

There are a whopping 86,324 people experiencing homelessness in Chicago, according to estimates calculated by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. And sometimes it has seemed as if an equal number of reasons have been offered for why we can’t allocate more resources to address this human catastrophe.

As a result, Chicago’s spending to alleviate homelessness has lagged woefully behind other major U.S. cities with large homeless populations over the decades. We spend only five percent of what New York City spends per homeless person, and a mere three percent of what Los Angeles spends per person.

This troubling pattern has culminated in the dilemma we face today, where the scale of the city’s homeless problem remains unchecked, embodying the front lines of an escalating affordable housing crisis.

But we also have a historic opportunity to change this pattern for good.

As state legislators representing Chicago, we were heartened when, during their recent campaign, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and several other candidates for mayor championed a plan to reverse the cycle of under-funding homelessness relief.  As it has been well-documented, the mayor originally proposed raising the city’s one-time Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) to bolster funding for programs that reduce homelessness by expanding affordable housing.

Of course, it’s also well-documented that Chicago is reeling from a budget deficit that continues to mushroom. Facing the mounting onus of all that red ink, the mayor changed course and proposed diverting revenues from the RETT increase into the city’s general coffers.

With that concept now pending in Springfield, we believe there is a way to amend Mayor Lightfoot’s proposed RETT increase to produce a win-win outcome for both deficit reduction and homelessness relief. Under a proposal we submitted to the Mayor’s office last week, both of these crucial imperatives could be served within the scope of the mayor’s graduated RETT structure.

How would it work? We proposed altering the structure of the mayor’s proposed RETT increase by 1) changing the rate for property sales worth more than $10 million from the 2.55 percent that Lightfoot proposed to four percent, with the rate applying only to the portion of the sale over $10 million, not the entire sale; and 2) applying the rate that Lightfoot has proposed for properties sold for between $1 million and $3 million to those also sold for more than $750,000.

All property transactions less than $815,000 would end up paying less than the current real estate transfer rate. On average, only six percent of all sales would see an increase under this proposal.

While the numbers sound complicated, the result, we believe, has the potential to be music to the public’s ear: It would allow Mayor Lightfoot to generate all the revenue she had originally proposed in order to close the city’s budget deficit, while also making a major dent in the city’s homelessness epidemic by creating permanent, affordable housing with necessary social services—mental-health care, substance-use treatment, job training, and other supports—that are proven to end homelessness.

While 13 legislators sent a letter to the mayor voicing the intent to oppose the RETT increase, if it doesn’t include dedicated funding for homelessness, it would be grossly inaccurate to equate that stance with “gun-to-the-head politics,” as a Crain’s editorial suggested. Crain’s echoed the Mayor’s claim that a property tax hike is inevitable unless the General Assembly passes her proposed RETT increase in its current form.

But our proposal demonstrates that there are many other revenue-raising vehicles that are consistent with the mayor’s desire to insulate working families from more financial pain. In fact, we’re making a concerted effort to address the important priorities we share with the mayor—deficit reduction and homelessness relief—while helping her dodge the political bullet of a property tax increase.

We commend Mayor Lightfoot for identifying the need during her campaign to revolutionize the way Chicago funds combatting homelessness. She recognized that we need to change our history on this issue, rather than let it repeat itself. In keeping with that spirit, we can’t afford to let this opportunity slip away and, once again, relegate the people experiencing homelessness in Chicago to the back of the line in the quest for funding.

We think our proposal is a blueprint for rectifying this intractable problem without jeopardizing other crucial goals. And we earnestly hope the Mayor is amenable to exploring this compromise.

We stand ready to work with her arm in arm. There are 86,324 vital, precious reasons to do so.

The authors are Illinois Senators Ram Villivalam (D-18) and Robert Peters (D-13) and Illinois Representatives Will Guzzardi (D-39) and Delia Ramirez (D-14).

Capitol Fax, Rich Miller: Tax proposal floated

     A half-dozen Democratic Senators sat down with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s staff last Tuesday to propose a compromise on the mayor’s graduated real estate transfer tax idea.
     The compromise was floated after 13 House Democrats representing the city publicly declared they wouldn’t support the mayor’s RETT proposal unless more money was spent on homeless prevention programs.
     The idea presented to the mayor would still allow her to raise $100 million a year for the city’s budget but would add about $86 million for homeless programs.  The initiative comes from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which also encouraged those 13 House Dems to speak out last week.  They would leave in place the mayor’s RETT rate cut for properties valued at $500K and below, but the next tier would include sales of $500K-$750K instead of $500K-$1 million.  And the mayor’s proposed marginal rate of 2.55 percent on sales over $10 million would be boosted to 4 percent under the new plan.
     Five of the Senators who met with the mayor’s people, Ram Villivalam, Robert Peters, Iris Martinez, Patricia Van Pelt, and Jacqueline Collins, are from the city.  But one, Ann Gillespie, is from the suburbs.  Chicago will most definitely need suburban votes to get this thing done.
     So far, the Senators haven’t heard back from the city. A mayoral spokesperson said they’re still “having conversations” about the legislation, which they hope will be voted on next week.  An official with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said in part, “we cannot see a reason why she would not agree” to their proposal because it does everything the mayor says she wants to do.  I’ll post both statements in their entirety at the blog.