Chicago News Cooperative: City to Restore Homeless Aid

November 30, 2011
By Meribah Knight
Cuts to emergency aid for Chicago’s homeless were reversed late Tuesday after the Illinois General Assembly approved a measure to restore funding for state grants for emergency and transitional housing.
The budget reallocation measure prevents the proposed $4.7 million reduction of state financing, a 52 percent cut, for emergency and transitional housing that Gov. Pat Quinn approved for the 2012 state budget. The reduction in state funding led Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services to lay off 24 workers.
The city plans to reinstate the full overnight emergency shift and restore 22 positions, 16 of which will be employees that were let go and six jobs that were vacant, according to Anne Sheahan, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services. The remaining two positions were management jobs that will not be filled, she added.
“We will be working to restore the overnight emergency service in it’s full capacity,” Sheahan said. “We will also be working to restore funding to all of our shelter providers.”
The funds will also allow the city to restore 60 shelter beds that had been cut, Sheahan said.
The city is also in talks with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to use $200,000 Emanuel had earmarked to offset the cuts on homelessness prevention services such as rental assistance, according to Sheahan.
Funding to reverse the cuts came from resources freed up by Quinn’s veto of $376 million from the $33.2 billion budget. The governor is expected to sign the legislation.
“This means that in a climate where there is a lot of foreclosure there is a lot of unemployment and a lot of financial burden on folks now they have just a minimal safety net to keep a roof over their head and food in their stomachs and get some stability in their lives,” said Daria Mueller, the associate director of state affairs at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
A survey released Monday by the coalition found that shelter programs in Illinois served 40,542 people in fiscal year 2011, yet people were turned away 45,673 times because of insufficient resources. If the cuts went through, the coalition estimated that an additional 6,756 people could end up on the streets.
City officials said the state funding cuts, which Quinn approved in August, were the reason they had to lay off 24 employees in the Department of Family and Support Services and eliminate emergency shelter outreach and transportation services from midnight to 8 a.m.
Henry Bayer, executive director of the large public employee union AFSCME Council 31, called on Emanuel to rehire the dismissed staffers.
“The funding has been restored. Mayor Emanuel should waste no time in calling back the workers he laid off and restoring the outreach program’s night shift in full,” Bayer said in a statement.
On Nov. 2, Emanuel introduced a City Council ordinance to reinstate limited emergency overnight services. The mayor’s plan earmarked $200,000 to create two to three outreach teams, each consisting of two employees and a van, to transport homeless people to shelters between 12:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m., according to Sheahan, the Department of Family and Support Services spokeswoman.
It is unclear what the restored state funding will mean for Emanuel’s ordinance. City officials were not immediately available for comment.
The department currently has two service coordinators who work to place people in shelters between midnight and 8:00 a.m. About 20 percent of the department’s requests for help come during those overnight hours, according to Sheahan.*
City officials and homeless advocates have voiced concerns that without overnight outreach services, Chicago’s homeless would be forced to seek shelter in emergency rooms and police precincts or else left them vulnerable in the street as the cold winter months approach.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the city did not have vehicles to transport people to shelters between midnight and 8 a.m. As of Nov. 15, the city restored what it called “limited transportation services during the overnight hours.”