January media reports: Homeless liaisons in CPS; panhandling; food stamps; CityPak; and Uptown tent city

January 29, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial: As the number of homeless kids in Chicago grows, CPS does more to help

One of the best provisions in the new Chicago Teachers Union contract is a requirement that the public schools hire additional staff in the 15 schools which have the largest numbers of homeless students.

By the CST Editorial Board

…Homelessness has a significant negative impact on achievement, as we all intuitively know and as studies confirm. Only 30% of homeless students nationwide scored at or above their state’s reading standards in 2017, according to a 2019 study by the National Center for Homeless Education at the University of North Carolina, and only 25% scored at that level in math.

What kid deserves a deal like that?

For our money, then — or, rather, for your tax dollars — one of the best provisions in the new Chicago Teachers Union contract is a requirement that the Chicago Public Schools hire more staff to work in the 15 schools — most on the South or West sides — that have the largest numbers of homeless students…

…CPS school-community reps will, among other tasks, make sure families and students know their legal rights, such as the right to enroll in any public school without having to provide proof of residence and to remain in their home school even if they have to move.

“The purpose [of the law] is to prevent days or weeks while a child isn’t enrolled in school anywhere,” Patricia Nix-Hodes of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless told us.

During the teachers’ strike, the CTU seized on the problem of student homelessness in an effort to force the city to commit to create more affordable housing. Chicago has a well-documented shortage of affordable housing…

Link to the Sun-Times editorial

January 28, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times: ‘Transformational’ new CPS positions will help students who are homeless

The school district last year had more than 16,000 kids without a home

By Nader Issa

Months of debate over one of the Chicago Teachers Union’s key contract demands, affordable housing, led to a breakthrough in teacher negotiations last fall: Chicago Public Schools has agreed to hire new staff members to help kids deal with homelessness and other temporary living situations.

Though news of the positions was widely shared when the deal was reached as part of the agreement to end the teachers strike, all involved have spent the time since then discussing the finer details and mechanics of what many view as a significant benefit to a district that last year had more than 16,000 kids without a permanent home.

Half of the students are concentrated in 10 South and West side wards. Though 36 percent of the district’s students are African American, 81 percent of homeless students are black, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The CTU is hosting an informational session at 5 p.m. Tuesday at its headquarters, 1901 W. Carroll, to help families and teachers understand homeless students’ rights.

“This will be the first opportunity that we know of where our members are all getting together to discuss these issues,” said Sarah Rothschild, a CTU education policy analyst. “Really elevating this issue [is important].”

…The new positions, called school community representatives, will go into schools that have at least 75 students living in those situations. Schools that have 140 or more such students will get two new staff members.

The school community reps will help families apply for fee waivers and understand their rights, as well as provide resources such as CTA passes, school uniforms and school supplies. And in many cases, they’ll work to identify students as homeless who have gone under the radar and aren’t getting the necessary support.

In all, 15 schools will get the positions, with three schools getting two school community reps and 12 getting one. CPS human resources head Matt Lyons said the list of schools couldn’t yet be shared because the district is still working to inform principals and isn’t posting the jobs for another week or two.

Meanwhile, workers at other schools who help homeless kids in addition to their other duties will for the first time receive stipends of $1,000 – $3,000.

“Even though it’s not a huge stipend, it’s a big, big step politically at the school level in highlighting the importance of the work that they do,” Rothschild said.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has already been working with the district on annual training for school staff on how to best aid students who are homeless, and the nonprofit is helping develop these new positions.

“Having one dedicated person fulfilling those responsibilities is going to be really transformational for those students,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, director of the coalition’s free legal services program. “I think it will really change the direction of students’ lives.”

Link to the full report

January 29, 2020

Block Club Chicago: Apartments or condos coming to former bank site near Western Blue Line station

The former bank property has sat vacant for years, and a group of people experiencing homelessness started living there last year

By Mina Bloom

LOGAN SQUARE — A four-story residential and retail building could soon rise on an abandoned bank property at Western and Armitage avenues — a site where people experiencing homelessness were living until the city kicked them out.

A developer operating under the limited liability corporation Advent Properties LLC- 2000 is looking to build a four-story building with 21 residential units and ground-floor retail on the site at 2000 N. Western Ave. / 2406 W. Armitage Ave., according to Ald. Daniel La Spata’s 1st Ward office and zoning attorney Mark Kupiec.

The developer doesn’t need a zoning change to build the project. Instead, it’s headed directly to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals for approval. The developer is, however, seeking two zoning variances because the lot is smaller than standard city lots, according to Kupiec…

…The former MB Financial Bank property has sat vacant for years. Sometime over the last year, a group of people experiencing homelessness had started living there.

In September, the group lost everything in a city cleanup, which sparked outrage among homeless advocates and raised questions about such city sweeps.

La Spata previously called the move “deeply frustrating.”

Said Diane O’ Connell, a community lawyer for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless: “There was ample opportunity for the city to do better in this situation. Certainly if they needed people to move things they could’ve communicated beforehand, they could’ve provided a place to move things to.”

Neighbors are encouraged to send feedback on the development proposal to La Spata’s office via zoning@the1stward.com.

Link to the full report

January 15, 2020

Daily Herald: DuPage, state police won’t enforce panhandling prohibition while lawsuit is pending

By Robert Sanchez

A state law prohibiting roadside panhandling won’t be enforced by Illinois State Police and the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office until a federal lawsuit challenging the law is resolved.

Michael Dumiak and Christopher Simmons filed the lawsuit in August 2019 against state police Director Brendan Kelly, DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin and the village of Downers Grove. The plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that they have the free-speech right to ask for help.

State police and the state’s attorney office on Tuesday agreed to a preliminary injunction prohibiting them from enforcing a section of a state law that bars asking drivers for money for the duration of the litigation.

“For now, our clients and many others will be able to exercise their First Amendment right to ask for help without interference from the state police,” said Rebecca Glenberg of the ACLU, one of the lawyers in the case. “In the long term, we hope that the court agrees with us that this statute is unconstitutional and may not be enforced at all.”

Officials with the DuPage state’s attorney’s office declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

Dumiak and Simmons are being represented by the ACLU of Illinois, the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the law firm of Schiff Hardin…

Link to the full report

January 10, 2020

Chicago Tribune: 50,000 Cook County residents will lose food stamps if they don’t find work soon, and the clock is ticking

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Richard Butler’s life hasn’t unfolded as he once imagined it would. As a child he dreamed of being a cartoonist, or maybe a singer or entrepreneur. Instead, he spent time in prison for burglarizing a car, experienced bouts of homelessness, and has struggled with mental health issues he says make it difficult to hold down a job.

Richard Butler stays at a friend’s apartment on South Halsted Street in Chicago. Butler could be impacted by new work requirements imposed on food stamp recipients. (Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune)

The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — provides Butler with $194 per month to put toward groceries. It helps him get by.

So Butler, 25, was shocked when he learned work requirements now in effect in Cook County could threaten those benefits.

“I’m in a situation where I don’t have anything,” said Butler, who is jobless and sleeps on an air mattress at a friend’s home in Englewood. “The least the government can do is help me eat.”

The clock started ticking Jan. 1 for about 50,000 food stamp recipients in Cook County who are now limited to three months of benefits over three years, unless they work, volunteer or participate in job training for at least 20 hours a week. Part of federal law since the 1990s, the work rules have been waived in Cook County for more than a decade but as of this year must be imposed because of the county’s low unemployment rate.

The work requirements apply only to adults aged 18 to 49 who are considered able-bodied and don’t have dependents; the majority of the county’s 826,000 food stamp recipients won’t be affected.

But there are grave concerns that the state’s workforce development system isn’t equipped to help such a large number of people find jobs, and that many individuals might not learn the rules exist until their benefits are cut off.

The state’s Department of Human Services mailed notices in December alerting people to the change, but many are homeless or change addresses frequently, and won’t know that they need to meet the requirements or seek exemptions for qualifying disabilities, said Mary Frances Charlton, youth health attorney at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless…

…Charlton, the attorney for homeless youth, said she believes Butler qualifies for a mental health exemption from the work requirements, and is helping him file that paperwork. But social service providers worry many SNAP recipients with qualifying disabilities will be cut off from benefits before they realize they need to seek a waiver.

Link to the full report

January 10, 2020

Billboard: Leader of the Pak: Paradigm agent Ron Kaplan delivers custom backpacks to the neediest among us

By Christopher Weingarten

….The video was filmed by Citypak founder Ron Kaplan — an agent at Paradigm Talent Agency whose clients include Van Morrison, Roger Daltrey, the Steve Miller Band, Lyle Lovett and Joss Stone — while he was on vacation in Maui in December and spotted Strauss.

Kaplan has grown accustomed to seeing Citypaks in action far from his current home base in Los Angeles. Strauss’ backpack was one of over 64,000 Citypak has distributed in 142 cities and three continents since the charity’s launch in 2012…

…Kaplan’s search for a more personal connection led to a relationship with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). That’s when the idea for Citypak took hold: “A very typical scenario was that everyday [homeless] people would come in for services, get food, recycled clothing, toiletries, but they never had anything to carry their stuff in,” says Kaplan. “I thought, ‘Has anyone ever devised a way to create a backpack specifically designed for the needs of the homeless?'”

Kaplan shared the idea with the owner of adventure luggage company High Sierra, who promptly put his design team on the project. After getting the first samples of the bags — inspired by the rugged knapsacks and ponchos that soldiers used in World War II — Kaplan asked CCH to help him gather a focus group of homeless Chicagoans for lunch and a chat.

As Kaplan recalls, “Everyone flipped out. They’re saying, ‘This is a lifesaver, this is exactly what we need!’ ” Members of the focus group also gave Kaplan some crucial suggestions, like adding a waterproof pouch to the bags to protect identification and hospital records. There are also no zippers on the bag’s exterior, says Kaplan, where they might “get rusted or broken.”…

Link to the full report

January 3, 2020

Streetsblog Chicago: Homeless tents have returned next to Uptown bike lanes likely built to displace them

By John Greenfield

In late 2017, after years of complaints from Uptown residents to 46th Ward alderman James Cappleman about tent cities in the Lawrence and Wilson avenue viaducts under Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Department of Transportation installed bike lanes on the sidewalks. While so I’ve found no smoking gun proving that the city’s motivation for building the cycling infrastructure was to prevent homeless people from returning to the underpasses afterwards, it’s highly probable that was at least a factor in the decision.

Ironically, that defensive architecture strategy isn’t even working. As of this afternoon there were two tents on the south sidewalk of Lawrence, and three or four tents plus a couch and a shopping cart on the north sidewalk of Wilson. While the green bike lanes are largely clear, the encampments basically render the pedestrian portion of the sidewalk unusable. That isn’t a big deal this time of year since bike and pedestrian traffic is light, but could lead to conflicts during the warmer months…

…Former residents of the tent city, represented by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Law Project, previously sued the city over the issue, arguing that the installation of the bike lanes was discriminatory against the homeless because it was done with the sole purpose of displacing them. The lawsuit also asserted that the design of the bikeways is dangerous…

Still, Dworkin said, the practice of building sidewalk bike lanes in viaducts makes it more difficult to defend the rights of homeless people to camp there, since the tents are, in fact, blocking the public way. “We feel like there’s just not that much we can do, except asking the city not to handle homelessness this way. It’s clearly not a productive way to to handle it — you’re just chasing people off to the next spot.”

Dworkin, who commutes by bike herself, said there were also homeless people sleeping in the Metra viaduct on Randolph Street between Canal and Clinton streets in the West Loop before CDOT installed a sidewalk bike lane there in 2016. “It’s a terrible design,” she said. At rush hour you’ve got to bike through crowds of people on Randolph crossing Canal.”

On top of that, it would have been relatively easy to create protected bike lanes on the street, rather than the sidewalk, in all of these viaducts. Lawrence, Wilson, and Randolph all have multiple travel lanes, which likely provides more capacity than is needed for the amount of motor vehicle traffic they carry, which encourages speeding. So converting mixed-traffic lanes to bike lanes instead of placing the bikeways on the sidewalks would have made everyone safer, bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers alike.

Link to the full report