Editor’s Note: Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has signed on to the following letter, sent July 13 to Timothy C. Evans, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County and to E. Kenneth Wright, Jr., presiding judge of the First Municipal District Court Civil Division.
The letter was submitted on behalf of the Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity (CHHRGE), a coalition of healthcare and emergency shelter providers responding to the COVID–19 pandemic among those most vulnerable to the virus.
Subject: General Order 2020-12 Procedures for Civil Division Matters
The courts opened on July 6, 2020 with a massive influx in litigants appearing for non-emergency civil matters. At times, lines have grown long and dense at Daley Center with limited space to adequately distance. We have serious concerns relating to the courts’ and court-stationed Chicago police officers’ ability to adhere to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) COVID–19 guidance and, in turn, the risk associated with people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness appearing in court. We fear that a more robust plan is needed to ensure safe and equitable participation in hearings and reduce COVID–19 exposure among the most vulnerable members of our community.
With approximately 51,000 confirmed COVID–19 cases in Chicago as of late June, those experiencing or at-risk of homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to the virus. Many Chicagoans at risk for homelessness live in congregate or crowded settings where risk for COVID-19 infection and spread is higher—settings such as homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, substance use recovery homes, nursing homes and low-income senior buildings, and SROs and other low income studio buildings.
Homelessness is expected to climb dramatically during the worsening economic downturn triggered by the pandemic. Vulnerable populations have lost work and healthcare access, and are often unable to access economic supports such as Unemployment Insurance, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and tax-based stimulus checks.
And while the Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity (CHHRGE) has successfully worked with CDPH and other partners to respond to the COVID-19 outbreaks in shelters over the last 3 months, the threat of COVID has not yet passed, and the shelter system does not have the capacity to safely absorb an influx of individuals becoming homeless through legal cases resulting in an eviction order.
Given the demographics of homelessness and housing instability in Chicago and Cook County, this Order will disproportionately impact Black litigants experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. Black Chicagoans make up 61% of the total population experiencing homelessness, and over the past decade, majority Black neighborhoods consistently experience eviction filing rates two to four times higher than majority Latinx or white areas. This is especially concerning given the COVID–19 mortality rate for Black Chicagoans is more than double the rate for white Chicagoans.
Since the Court re-opened on July 6, we have consistently seen a concentration of litigants waiting in line in-person at the Daley Center. One reason for this influx of people presenting in-person is that many people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness lack reliable computer, phone, or internet access (this includes those in City- and State- funded COVID–19 shielding and isolation units.) In the absence of a reliable virtual connection, these individuals will need to go to the courthouse in-person. In-person court dates put additional strain on our social safety net, since very few shelter facilities have spaces for quarantining shelter residents upon their return from court. Additionally, lines and a concentration of people at the courthouse poses a broader public health risk for all Chicagoans given the inability to adequately social distance and prevent spread of COVID–19.
Illinoisans have spent three months sheltering at home and wearing masks as a proactive strategy to prevent the spread of COVID–19, rather than allowing spread and treating the disease. We urge the County of Cook to apply this same principle to the problem of court administration. For the health and safety of our city and county during the COVID–19 crisis, we are advocating for a more robust plan to ensure safe and equitable participation in hearings and reduce COVID–19 exposure among the most vulnerable members of our community.
CHHRGE Partners and Supporters
The Chicago Homelessness and Health Response Group for Equity (CHHRGE) is a coalition of
healthcare and emergency shelter providers responding to the COVID–19 pandemic among those
most vulnerable to the virus.
CHHRGE Partner and Supporting Organizations
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
All Chicago Making Homelessness History
Breakthrough Urban Ministries
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Chicago Street Medicine
Connections for the Homeless
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group
Heartland Alliance Health
Illinois Public Health Institute
Lawndale Christian Health Center
LUCHA (Latin United Community Housing Association)
New Moms Inc
North Side Housing & Supportive Services
Renaissance Social Services
Rush University Medical Center
Saint Anthony Hospital, Community Wellness Program
The Dina and Eli Field EZRA Multi-Service Center
UI Health Mile Square Health Centers
Uptown People’s Law Center
Westside Justice Center
White Coats for Black Lives Chapter, Loyola University of Chicago Stritch School of Medicine
Individual CHHRGE Members and Supporters
Adithya Sivakumar, M.D. Candidate
Amanda Hejna, M.P.A.
Amina Dreessen, Student
Anjelica Reyes, M.S. Candidate
Barbara Shaw, DNP, FNP-BC
Regina Shasha, FNP, PMHNP, BC
Cindy Nissen, MSN, APN
David Ansell, M.D.
Deborah Edberg, M.D.
Leslie Fenio, PA-S
Matthew Downing, M.D. Candidate
Maura Benson, Student
Megan McClung, J.D.
Mildred Williamson, PhD, MSW
Nancy B Powers
Nancy J. Heil, M.D.
Nathaniel Schwartz, M.D. Candidate
Nichole Reinen, MSN/CNL Candidate
Onyeka Umeadi, MS
Peter Markee, M.D. Candidate
Raechel Ferry-Rooney, DNP, APRN, ANP
Rebecca Lara, MD, EdM
Regina Shasha, FNP, PMHNP, BC
Gregory L. Bowman
Guadalupe Perez, RN
Jacob Ryan Storck, MSW
Jesse Webb, M.D. Candidate
Jessica L. Simpson, M.D. Candidate
Joseph J. Hennessy, M.D.
Joseph Zanoni, PhD, MILR
Katherine O’Connell, BSN
Kathryn A Kaintz
Kayla Byrne, BA Candidate
Lauren A. Cole
Lauren Walker, OTR/L
Leah Brodsky, M.D. Candidate
Sabina Wong, M.D.
Samuel P. Carlson, MPA
Sara Jean Lindholm
Shaina Shetty, M.D.
Shannon Morris MSN, CNL Candidate
Sheryl Rubel, LCSW
Stephanie Moss, M.D. Candidate
Steven K. Rothschild, M.D.
Tara Noonan, LCSW