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.

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.