By Andrew Holzman
According to a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless study, 105,338 people were homeless in Chicago for the 2011-2012 school year. Just a handful of that population, or people at risk of joining it, may eventually become graduates of the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project (HPTHP). The HPTHP is an all-volunteer local mentoring and housing-assistance program which works with two-to-three clients at a time to overcome challenges keeping them from financial stability and steady housing.
The project developed as a reaction to a lack of resources for homeless people in the immediate neighborhood.
“We didn’t really have any other spots in the Hyde Park-Kenwood community,” said Allan Lindrup, the organization’s trustee for fundraising. “We needed to develop some kind of community response.”
The group was formed in part by members of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Interfaith Council, which still provides a significant source of its funding through a grant. Adding the Interfaith Council grant to other funds, the group rents market-rate apartments and offers them to approved families for little or no rent. Often, Lindrup said, clients are only asked to help with the security deposit. But for HPTHP clients, affordable housing is only the beginning.
“We provide an opportunity for a family to work on building their educational background, acquire job skills, whatever is necessary,” Lindrup said.
Volunteer mentors trained to help clients build plans for the future and manage funds meet with families once a week for about an hour. Lindrup said that mentors also provide a compassionate ear for clients who need encouragement to “stay on the path.”
“We were able to offer support and advice not available to [one client] from her own family,” said Janet Marcus, a mentor. Marcus said she was grateful to be able to “help a young adult and her child make their way in the world.”
Though the program’s participants mainly have a connection to the Hyde Park-Kenwood area, the problems that made them homeless or took them to the brink are diverse.
Explaining the factors behind homelessness in Chicago, Lindrup said, “There is a spectrum of issues. Some are personal, some societal, some familial … young people are tossed out because they are gay or pregnant, people become unemployed because they need new skills.”
“This is a story of individual people in crisis,” said the Rev. Devin McLachlan, president of the HPTHP board.
Unlike a shelter, the project has the chance to become intimately familiar with the underlying cause of a person’s homelessness before admission. Lindrup explained that the project looks for clients whose situation is likely to benefit from treatment, not people who will need assistance for chronic issues.
“Some programs are for people with chronic issues that support people who will never be independent; this program is not right for those people,” he said.
A series of background checks, meetings and interviews helps volunteer case managers decide whether a family is a good fit. Because of the program’s size, though, openings are far fewer than the referrals which come from local organizations and even the City of Chicago’s website.
“We would love to grow, and did some grant writing, but most grant funders won’t touch us because of our size,” Lindrup said.
Even if the organization can only put a drop in the bucket, it strives to be efficient with what it can do.
“I think it’s very, very successful. Because we work on a small scale we can really give people one-on-one attention,” McLachlan said.
“We know very well what’s happening with our client families,” Lindrup said. “50 percent [of families] are very successful, 50 percent are not as cooperative and make less progress … shelters usually would not have these kinds of success rates. They’re helping on a short-term basis, but not on a long term basis.”
Both Lindrup and McLachlan pointed to the success of recent graduates, one of whom McLachlan said now has an apartment with a fireplace and a good job.
Debbie, a former client of the program and now a HPTHP mentor whose last name the board asked the Herald not to print, said steady housing helped her make important changes.
“As a single mom of two children HPTHP allowed me to get back on my feet by providing housing stability for my family,” she said. “… I was able to successfully complete a union apprenticeship program, have one child graduate from college and another child completing college next spring.”
“You need local solutions like this,” McLachlan said. “It’s going to take both local communities … and people advocating to the state legislature and city government.”