The Columbia Chronicle: New response center to help homeless families

By Jackie Murray, Metro Reporter

Chicago’s first rapid response center designed to help homeless families get on the path to permanent housing will be built on the West Side through a collaboration between city officials and the Salvation Army.

“We’re just very thankful for the opportunity the city is providing us,” said Lt. Col. Charles Smith, metropolitan divisional commander for the Salvation Army. “We look forward to this service as the years go by.” 

The Shield of Hope, 910 N. Christiana Ave., will have a 20-room unit that can house up to 75 beds and a multipurpose room that can house cots if necessary.  Families can stay at the shelter from one to 10 days while being assessed and then will be referred to one of the 50 family shelters in the city before hopefully moving to permanent housing, Smith said. 

Construction is scheduled to begin in April or May 2017, and the facility is scheduled to open  its doors in the latter part of spring 2018, he added.

Another resource for families will be across the street at Salvation Army’s Freedom Center, 825 N. Christiana Ave., which provides job training and after-school programs. The Shield of Hope will better serve homeless families who are not getting the care they need at the city’s Garfield Center—a community service shelter at 10 S. Kedzie Ave.— Smith added. 

“This is going to definitely be a much better overflow facility for families than [previously],” said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “[The Kedzie location] didn’t have facilities for food, showers or proper beds.” 

Dworkin said the city has historically not dedicated many local resources to homelessness. That is starting to change with a 4 percent surcharge on all Airbnb rentals in Chicago, the first local dedicated funding stream that addresses homelessness, she added. 

“Unfortunately, it’s been the job of the federal government to put in the majority of the resources for housing,” Dworkin said. “Over many decades, those resources have been cut back. Even in more favorable administrations, they haven’t been enough.” 

President Donald Trump has asked for more than $6 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in his 2018 budget proposal. The department was established to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable housing for all Americans, according to its website.

Dworkin said the city should have greater funding for affordable housing, similar to services in Los Angeles and New York City, to address homelessness on a larger scale. 

While private and public partnerships in Chicago have been involved in successful programs to house homeless individuals, including veterans, there is still a shortage of affordable housing along with other obstacles to permanent housing, said Christine George, an associate research professor at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning.  

“We know what works, but we often don’t have enough resources to deal with it,” George said. 

George said affordable housing is important because most poor families cannot keep up with Chicago’s rent prices, which surge as areas are gentrified. Advocacy within the federal and state government is also needed to avoid cuts in housing programs, she said. 

The Shield of Hope will provide assistance until families can get into a shelter or a  permanent location, she added. 

“The key is a question of [having] permanent housing and social services in place to support [these]people who have very fragile lives,” George said.