Stimulus-funded housing program spurred by CCH advocacy proves effective

A new study proves the effectiveness of a 2009 stimulus-funded housing assistance program piloted after advocacy by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

The city of Chicago-designed program helped 220 families who lived doubled-up with family or friends in the Englewood neighborhood in 2009-10. Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) homeless education staff helped design the Student Family Support Services Initiative (SFSI), and identified the student families who were helped by it. 

SFSI was very effective in identifying families for help – on average, its 220 client families had experienced homelessness 2.4 times and spent 18 months homeless, the study says. Of the 879 family members who were assisted, 611 (69.5%) were children.

After the program ended, 71% of families were able to assume responsibility for their own rental housing costs without needing a subsidy, according to the study by the Social IMPACT Research Center at Heartland Alliance. The program offered rental and employment assistance, therapeutic services, and asset-building education.

“As Chicago begins to undertake planning to implement the new opportunities under the HEARTH Act, SFSI can serve as a model of what we know about targeting doubled-up families through a housing and services intervention,” IMPACT Director Amy Rynell, the study’s lead author, said in a statement released with the study.

The Law Project at CCH advocated with Chicago officials to create a program that would link the families of homeless students to programs that could stabilize their housing. CCH focuses its legal aid and advocacy on serving homeless students and youth, who made up 90% of its clients in FY 2012.

Key city leaders creating the program were Jim LoBianco, then Chicago’s deputy commissioner for the Office of Homeless Services, and Patricia Rivera, then director of the CPS homeless program, Students in Temporary Living Situations.

Both continue to lead organizations that assist those who are homeless or at-risk in Chicago: Ms. Rivera is now executive director of Chicago HOPES, a non-profit that runs shelter-based tutoring for children. Mr. LoBianco is executive director of the weekly StreetWise magazine sold by vendors throughout the Chicago area, and he serves as a member of the CCH Board.

– Anne Bowhay, Media