Chicago Tribune: Oak Park board repeals panhandling ordinance; one trustee suggests ‘giving meters’

By Steve Schering

Amid pressure from numerous organizations, the village of Oak Park has officially repealed its seldom-enforced panhandling ordinance.

Ordinance 17-1-26 had been in effect in Oak Park since at least 1981. It was officially repealed by the village board during a unanimous vote Oct. 1. With the vote, the line “it shall be unlawful to beg” has been officially removed from the village code.

“For about 30 years, the village has had this language, but it has been consistently determined by the courts that it really isn’t the right way to handle begging and panhandling,” Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said. “The American Civil Liberties Union has been consistently working with municipalities to remove the language.”

In late August, the ACLU, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty sent letters challenging ordinances against panhandling to 15 Illinois municipalities, including Oak Park.

“No one wants to see poor people have to beg for money,” National Law Center attorney Eric Tars said in August. “But until all their basic needs, food, healthcare and housing, are met, they have a right to ask for help.”

Shortly after receiving the letter, Oak Park spokesman David Powers said the village attorney began reviewing the ordinance in preparation for a revision.

Pavlicek said the ordinance was rarely enforced by police in recent years, with officers choosing to deal with panhandling cases in a more sympathetic way.

“As staff, we are happy to recommend to the board that we repeal the language,” Pavlicek said. “The police department has really not enforced this in a number of years because of concerns of free speech. They really work to provide services and approach the situation much differently in a proactive way.”

In voting to repeal the ordinance, Oak Park Trustee Dan Moroney offered a suggestion to help potential donors ensure their money is going to a reputable cause. He noted some towns have installed “giving meters” in their downtown areas.

“One line of thinking is money given to the homeless is better given to an organization like Housing Forward or Pads,” Moroney said. “It provides services to the homeless, and there’s a lot of people who want to give but want to give to the right source.”

A message left with Housing Forward seeking comment about Moroney’s suggestion was not immediately returned.

Other trustees appeared to favor Moroney’s idea, which he felt could be a win for local charitable organizations and people looking to get rid of their spare change.

“These are parking meters that would be converted to something that delineates them from a normal parking meter and [people] can put money directly into the meter,” Moroney said. “Those meters can be given over to [those organizations] and that organization is in charge of collecting the money and seeing what is best to do with the money they collect. It could be as easy as the village drilling a little hole in the ground and the arts commission making it look fancy.”

The village board approved the repeal of the village’s begging ordinance by a 6-0 vote. Trustee Andrea Button was absent.

Chicago panhandler
A panhandler solicits for money at the intersection of North Avenue and the Kennedy Expressway. After facing pressure from outside agencies, Oak Park trustees repealed its ordinance that prohibited panhandling within the village. (David Klobucar/Chicago Tribune)

NPR Illinois: State boosts monthly aid to needy families

Maxica Williams, pictured with three of her children, appeared before a state legislative committee to speak to the need for an increase financial help for needy families.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An increase in TANF assistance for impoverished Illinois families was secured through advocacy by CCH, The Shriver Center, and Heartland Alliance.

By Maureen Foertsch McKinney

Illinois recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families – also known as TANF – will see an increase in the amount of their monthly grants in October. A $22 million boost was negotiated in the budget this year. Advocates for the poor say the difference may mean more families will be off the streets.

Maxica Williams was  struggling to make ends meet as she juggled two part-time jobs. Then, three years ago, the Chicago resident was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She endured chemotherapy and other treatments that left her unable to work.

Her family ended up homeless for eight months because she couldn’t meet the costs related to raising her four children – even though she had aid, known as TANF. She says she was appreciative of the assistance.

“I don’t want to sound bad and negative. But the amount was just not enough to survive and be able to take care of every basic need that I had with the family,” the 40-year-old said.

LINK to hear the radio report

The approximately $400 TANF grant she received for herself and her three minor daughters wasn’t enough to rent a modest apartment because she couldn’t meet the landlords’ rental guidelines. Williams also has an 18-year-old son for whom she no longer receives assistance.

Niya Kelly, state legislative director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said it’s not uncommon for TANF recipients like Williams to become homeless. Families have had to make really difficult decisions about what is paid and what is sacrificed, she said. Do they buy shoes and clothes? Pay for transportation? Or buy diapers and formula?

“In talking to families, they’re saying that this means that they may be able to pay another bill this month, making sure that they keep the lights on, making sure they can pay their rent – things that other folks take for granted,” she said.

This year, in Illinois, the amount of money set aside for grants was the smallest in all states but Arkansas.

The last increase in Illinois grants was a decade ago. The previous boost was 22 years back. A family with a single parent and two children will get about $100 more a month, raising the grant to $520. Families with four to six members will get as much as $250 more a month.

State Sen. Mattie Hunter, a Chicago Democrat, says the bipartisan agreement was negotiated in the budget. A Senate measure that drew votes from Democrats and Republicans would have had increases over three years.

“I’m happy that folks decided that they wanted to make a difference in poor people’s lives and try to address the poverty issue here in the state of Illinois,’’ Hunter said. “Everybody decided to work together to negotiate this issue and, as a result, our families have a few more dollars on the table that they can work with.”

One of the opponents to the increase was state Sen. Dave Syverson, a Rockford Republican. He said, “It wasn’t the biggest priority compared to others. …  I thought would it would those dollars would get served better.

Maxica Williams testified before lawmakers in Springfield this spring. She says she tried hard to convince legislators of the need for a TANF hike.

“It meant a lot for me to get out there and let legislature know what was going on with us,” said. “You need TANF because of real serious issues.’’

NPR Illinois: Homeless student numbers rise

By Maureen Foertsch McKinney

The Illinois State Board of Education reports that the number of homeless students has climbed over the last few years.

There were 53,733 homeless students counted throughout the state in fiscal year 2016. That number grew by 56,881 by the end of this fiscal year (two years later).

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says it’s hard to tell why the increase occurred .

“The problem in tracking homeless people, in general, is it’s very hard to say there is evidence that the problem is growing or that it’s shrinking because there are so many factors that can impact the numbers.”

She says the numbers can be affected by how well the schools are staffed in programs for homeless students. Still — knowing the numbers can help determine what resources are needed to address the problem.

Dworkin says, for homeless students who end up moving frequently, falling behind academically is possible … and the odds of dropping out and having emotional and behavioral problems are increased.

Chicago Tribune: ACLU, homelessness advocates call on Illinois cities to repeal laws prohibiting panhandling, citing First Amendment

By Ese Olumhense

Laws prohibiting panhandling not only criminalize those who are homeless, but are unconstitutional, said a coalition of civil liberties and homelessness advocates on Tuesday as they launched a campaign to end the bans in 15 municipalities in the state, including Chicago.

The push is part of a larger national effort orchestrated by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, which is working with advocates in almost 240 cities in more than a dozen states to press for repeals of panhandling prohibitions. In Illinois, where the D.C.-based nonprofit worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the ACLU of Illinois, officials in Aurora, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, Cicero, Danville, Decatur, East St. Louis, Elgin, Joliet, Moline, Oak Park, Peoria, Rockford and Urbana were sent letters challenging their panhandling ordinances.

“The ordinance serves no compelling state interest,” the coalition said in its letter Tuesday to Chicago officials. “Distaste for a certain type of speech, or a certain type of speaker, is not even a legitimate state interest, let alone a compelling one.”

The groups say the U.S. Constitution is on their side, citing a unanimous 2015 Supreme Court ruling that calls on governments to closely review laws that regulate speech based on its content. Since the high court’s decision, each of the 25 times an anti-panhandling ordinance has been challenged in court it has been found unconstitutional, said Diane O’Connell, community lawyer at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless — an “overwhelming batting average.”

“Everyone has the right to ask for help,” O’Connell said. “It’s really kind of shocking that (communities) would outlaw such a thing.”

READ MORE: Fence goes up at ‘Triangle’ and homeless move — to another part of Lower Wacker Drive »

Panhandling ordinances have been struck down or repealed in Springfield, New York City and Tampa, Fla.

In Chicago, where an estimated more than 80,000 are homeless, panhandling is legally defined as “any solicitation made in person upon any street, public place or park in the city, in which a person requests an immediate donation of money or other gratuity from another person.” The city bans panhandling in various places, including CTA property, and in certain circumstances, such as doing so in a way “that a reasonable person would find intimidating,” including touching people, asking for money when someone’s standing in line, blocking someone’s path or using profanity or abusive language.

“The city of Chicago is dedicated to ensuring all residents have a place to call home and that incidents of homelessness are rare and brief,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department. “The city has made strategic investments to support and improve the circumstances of this vulnerable population, and while we are still reviewing the letter, we look forward to continuing the city’s ongoing dialogue with homeless advocates.”

At the entrance to the Pedway at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue during rush hour Tuesday evening, some who were panhandling voiced discontent with the city’s policies.

“I think it’s wrong, really,” said Bud Wilson, 60, who’d been seated at the top of the Pedway entrance’s steps for four hours.

As commuters raced by to catch homebound trains, Wilson, clutching a cane, pleaded for change. On a typical day, he makes about $20 to $30 panhandling, he said. He has been homeless for seven years.

Violations of Chicago’s ordinance carry a $50 fine for the first or second offense within a year. The fine doubles for a third or subsequent offense within a 12-month period.

WBBM Newsradio: Advocacy groups warn cities about unconstitutional panhandling ordinances

By Mike Krauser

More than 200 cities, including 15 in Illinois, are being warned that their panhandling ordinances are unconstitutional and need to be repealed.

Diane O’Connell, a lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said, “panhandling laws are used to unfairly criminalize people experiencing homelessness for exercising their First Amendment rights. Every person has the right to ask for help.

“There are notable similarities between all of them, but the problem is that they target a particular type of speech and that’s called a content restriction and that’s unconstitutional.”

Since a U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in 2015, panhandling ordinances in 55 cities have either been repealed or struck down by courts.

The letters are a first step. Legal action will follow, O’Connell said.

Locally, the letters went to Chicago, Oak Park, Cicero, Elgin and Aurora.

Chicago Tribune: Catholic Charities unveils showers for homeless in Chicago

Following the example of Pope Francis, who opened a shower room and laundry facility for the homeless in Rome three years ago, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago unveiled similar services inside its downtown headquarters Monday.

Services also include access to a clothing donation closet and a variety of social services. The agency also will continue to serve meals to the homeless five days a week out of a renovated and upgraded kitchen.

“Our guests will have comfort of a warm shower, toiletries, bedding, clothing,” said Monsignor Michael Boland, president of Catholic Charities. “These small mercies which most of us take for granted can help preserve health and restore hope to those who live at the margins of society. They can be a first step toward a life of self-sufficiency.”

For more than 17 years, Catholic Charities’ headquarters has been home to an evening supper program that serves sit-down dinners and to-go meals to more than 250 individuals and families five days a week.

Guests who come for a meal on Tuesday night have a chance to sign up for a 30-minute shower slot between 10 a.m. and noon the following day. Each shower client receives a towel, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, a razor, shaving cream, deodorant and a change of clothes. They also will be able to use the laundry services to wash and dry their clothes and bedding.

Up and running for the past two weeks, showers have been booked solid with a waiting list each Wednesday. The agency hopes to expand the program to more hours and days, but that capacity depends on volunteers.

The program at Catholic Charities is modeled after a similar ministry on Tuesday afternoons at Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue. Unlike shelters, both ministries offer bathing opportunities to clients who don’t live there.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, there are 80,384 homeless Chicagoans, including people who are relying on friends or loved ones for temporary residence.

“Thousands of people are experiencing homelessness in our city,” said Mary Tarullo, the coalition’s associate director of policy. “So we certainly have a long way to go in making sure everybody is housed. Showers are a great step in the right direction.”

“It’s serving a great need for places where people can take care of themselves in dignity,” she said.

Matthew Shay, 27, a substance abuse counselor who handles the intake for the pilot program, said the washrooms offer hope to people struggling with homelessness — both symbolically and practically speaking. Not only does water symbolize rebirth in rituals such as baptism, he said, but hot showers can also bring about a life-giving transformation.

Shay speaks from experience. He struggled with addiction and homelessness for about 18 months before receiving the help he needed from Catholic Charities.

“When they give up hygiene, they’re mentally giving up and feeling hopeless,” Shay said. “So when you provide that to somebody who doesn’t have it, it provides a sense of normalcy that common Americans take for granted. It’s a simple pleasure for us — simple pleasures that are really a privilege.”

Catholic News Agency: ‘Catholic Charities provides showers for homeless people’


Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Study finds 10,000 families experienced homelessness last year

By Mark Brown, columnist

An estimated 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago at some point during the past year, according to a new study that suggests the city could identify them and intervene sooner.

The study is regarded as significant because it is the first to combine information from the city’s official database of homeless individuals with data from Chicago Public Schools, which tracks homeless students separately using a broader definition of homelessness.

The result is a count that tallies both families identified in the study as experiencing “literal homelessness” — living in shelters or on the streets — and the much larger number of homeless who are “doubled up” in living arrangements with relatives or friends.

Homeless advocates have been urging government policymakers for many years to recognize the needs of the doubled-up homeless. The study confirms families living in such unstable housing situations often end up in the shelter system later. It also provides unprecedented demographic insights into homeless families, which were defined as having at least one adult and one child.

The average size of a family accessing homeless services in Chicago is 3.3 members, slightly smaller than an average city family of 3.4 members. In those families, 70 percent have a single adult female, compared to 18 percent with two adults and just 9 percent with a single adult male.

The average age of the adults in those homeless families was 32, and most of the children were under the age of 10. Half of the homeless families reported having no income or income of less than $500 a month.

Graph of distribution of child age in families experiencing homelessness

Courtesy of UChicago Urban Labs report “Ending Family Homelessness Report: Understanding the scale and needs of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago.” (Provided)

Based on the study, a coalition of advocates led by the Corporation for Supportive Housing urged the city and state to direct more funds toward homeless prevention and to make doubled-up families eligible for services. The study also found that one in four adults in families receiving homeless services report some type disability, typically a mental health problem. Three-fourths of those families had previously sought homeless prevention funding, but were deemed ineligible.

The homeless groups say the city should coordinate its efforts by reaching out to families with students the school system has identified as homeless, both to offer assistance and to keep track of them.

• They don’t live under a bridge, but they’re still homeless
Homeless students need more than ‘token’ attention from CPS
• Question from Lower Wacker’s rousted homeless: ‘Where are the people gonna go?’

City’s eviction of Lower Wacker homeless camp slows, but doesn’t stop

Although the numbers are daunting, the report indicates the total of 10,000 homeless families in the city is actually an improvement.

The total was 12,500 just four years ago and has decreased steadily each year since then, the study found.

But researchers note the drop in homeless families may be the result of the city’s changing demographics, which have seen a disproportionate population loss of low-income and African-American residents.

The study by the University of Chicago Urban Labs found that family homelessness falls most heavily on African-Americans, who account for 77 percent of families experiencing literal homelessness and 86 percent of those who are doubled up.

On Wednesday, the city cited its own efforts to end family homelessness through the Families in Transition program as one cause for the reduction. The program has housed 88 of the 100 families that took part, said Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler.

Urban Labs researchers project the number of homeless families in the city will hold steady, or see a slight uptick, during 2018.

Chicago Tribune: ‘We don’t have nowhere to go’ – Confusion persists after delayed evictions of Lower Wacker homeless encampment

By Tessa Weinberg

The piercing whine of drills hitting concrete echoed across Lower Wacker Drive as a person in a homeless encampment tried to sleep nearby.

Advocates with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless stood huddled as Chicago Department of Transportation workers drilled holes to erect tall black poles that would fence off an area along the site of a homeless encampment known as “the Triangle,” near Wabash Avenue and East Lower Wacker.

“Woah, they’re serious,” Chris Carter, who has been homeless for four years, said when he spotted the six poles Monday afternoon.

Carter, 50, is one of the dozens of homeless Chicagoans who have packed up their belongings and are leaving the area that once was home to about 50 people at a time.

Link to video interviews

By Monday afternoon, crates, blankets, a few bicycles and trash were left strewn across the damp ground. One tent remained, but bright orange CDOT signs warning that people and belongings needed to be gone by 8 a.m. Monday for construction already had driven most out.

However, confusion persisted when the scheduled evictions didn’t take place. A new sign was posted announcing the Triangle would be power-washed from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Friday.

Ali Simmons, a street outreach worker with the Coalition for the Homeless who visits the encampment a few times a week, said the new sign and delayed evictions “make no sense.”

“There’s still people here. They didn’t move. They didn’t make an attempt to move. So I think that tends to support the fact that there was confusion on what was supposed to happen,” Simmons said. “You’ve got two different notices, saying two different things. Why post a power-washing notice for the 15th to give residents notice of this, if no one would be here?”

Multiple city departments, including the Police Department, Department of Family and Support Services, Department of Transportation, and Department of Streets and Sanitation are working in conjunction to fence off the encampment in an effort to target crime. Construction of the fence is expected to take place through June 22.

Diane O’Connell, a staff attorney with the Coalition for the Homeless, questioned the city’s intentions.

“I think that there’s crime that happens all over the city of Chicago, and to take an adverse action against a group of people based on a stereotype that that group of people is dangerous, is discrimination,” O’Connell said.

Two officials with CDOT declined to comment at the encampment or clarify when people needed to vacate.

“I can’t speak to the signs,” said Alisa Rodriguez, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services’ deputy commissioner of homeless programs. “But what I can tell you is that we haven’t asked anyone to move. Of course the intent is by the end of the week, CDOT will do the work that they need to do, and folks will need to vacate, but no one needs to move now, or not until Friday.”

However, the orange CDOT bulletins posted last week said all people and items needed to be vacated Monday and any belongings left would be “discarded by the City.”

Representatives of the city’s Transportation, Family and Support Services and Streets and Sanitation and Police departments said they could not provide clarification on when people have to leave.

Some people said they hadn’t been informed by the city when they needed to leave.

“I’m just trying to figure things out,” Carter said. “Who is responsible for doing all these things right here? Caging this up because of the homeless?”

The confusion surrounding the deadline creates a risk for people who are homeless who call the Triangle home, O’Connell said.

“If they don’t know when the city is going to finally, actually evict them and take possession of things that are here, it creates uncertainty and it creates a risk that if a person does need to go somewhere and do something, maybe when they’re not here their possessions get thrown away,” she said.

Among the belongings could be medication, personal documents, clothes and more, O’Connell said.

Carter and Terry Mardis, who said he had lived in the Triangle for the past 13 years, were some of the people who had already moved their belongings farther down Lower Wacker.

Carter said he has lived in the Triangle for the past three winters, and with the fence going in, he had no choice but to move.

Mardis, who stood in the Triangle on Monday with a sleeping bag under one arm, said he felt the construction showed the city considered being homeless a crime.

“But it’s not a crime,” said Mardis, 48. “We don’t have nowhere to go. We’re down here to live our life.”

Those at the encampment said their remaining options were slim.

“We’re safer down here,” Carter said. “We go down south there’s shooting down there. We go out west, there’s shooting over there. Go out north, we don’t belong around there. The city is segregated, so the homeless can’t go too far.”

The covered roads of Lower Wacker Drive provide warmth and protection, Mardis said.

Simmons said the Triangle was a place where people have found sanctuary, security and comfort. Building a fence won’t fix the issue in the long term, he said, while affordable housing would.

“Eventually we’re still going to be down here,” Carter said. “We’re just going to move down the street, and go down somewhere else. It’s going to be the same old, same old.”

Rodriguez rebutted claims that the city is criminalizing homelessness and only provides services when evictions are near.

“We’re under Lower Wacker regularly. This is nothing new. Nothing different,” Rodriguez said. “The only difference is that the fence is going up.”

But to Mardis, the fence makes all the difference.

It’s “really hurting me, because we’ve got to go. This is our house down here,” Mardis said with tears in his eyes. “We’ve got to stick up for our rights. And everybody’s got to stand up.”

Chicago Sun-Times, Mark Brown: Chicago takes low-key approach to remove homeless camp from Lower Wacker

A city official on Monday talks to a homeless man who lives in The Triangle about services that are available to him as the city slowly begins to move the encampment on Lower Wacker Drive. | Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

By Mark Brown, columnist

City workers moved deliberatively Monday morning to begin removing a homeless encampment from an area of Lower Wacker Drive known as The Triangle.

Unlike the police show of force that characterized last summer’s eviction of tent cities beneath two Lake Shore Drive viaducts in Uptown, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration took a low-key approach to ousting the homeless group that occupies a spot just west of Michigan Avenue.

An 8 a.m. deadline for the homeless residents to move their belongings came and went with no effort to physically move them.

It was nearly 10 a.m. before city social workers arrived to begin offering the last dozen stragglers another opportunity to accept a bed in a shelter or detox unit. They found one woman who took them up on the chance to go to detox.

Only two police officers were on the scene, and they were staying mostly on the periphery. A Salvation Army truck served chili mac and Kool-Aid.

By late morning, however, a city contractor began drilling holes in the pavement to erect fence posts — the clearest sign about the city’s intentions to make the area off limits to homeless people.

Despite the din, many homeless people lay asleep on the ground.

Many packed their belongings and moved down the street to another area of Lower Wacker. Others came and took their place.

A contingent from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless arrived early to stand watch to make sure nobody’s rights were violated but they didn’t have much to do.

The city has said it is closing the encampment for public safety reasons — both for the protection of the homeless people and for those who live and work in the area.

Advocates for the homeless say the city is just trying to move the homeless to a less visible location away from the busy roadway.