Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and partners weigh in on high-profile U.S. Supreme Court case, Johnson v. Grants Pass 

By Sam Paler-Ponce, interim associate director of policy 

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless assembled 27 statewide partner organizations in filing an amicus brief in the upcoming case of Johnson v. Grants Pass. On the docket to be heard for oral arguments on April 22, 2024, this will be the first time in decades that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case related to homelessness. 

“Homelessness is not something you can sweep under the rug. It needs to be solved in a positive way,” said Robert Henderson, a grassroots leader with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “Punishing a person for being homeless is cruel and unusual, and it is not right.” Henderson was living on the street when he first worked with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as a legal client. In 2018, he became the first person to successfully bring a case under the Illinois Homeless Bill of Rights. 

Originating from Grants Pass, Oregon, the Supreme Court will determine if cities have the right to penalize people for sleeping outdoors if they have even a blanket to stay warm, particularly when they have nowhere else to go. At the heart of the matter lies the interpretation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.  

“The best solutions to the homelessness crisis in this country are creating sufficient affordable housing and providing supporting social services to help individuals stay housed,” said Camilla Krauss, a drafting attorney on the brief. “Criminalizing a person experiencing homelessness for simply existing in the elements not only creates bad precedent but also serves to exacerbate, rather than solve, the core issues.” 

“Homelessness is a public health and affordable housing crisis, requiring urgent, meaningful and collaborative action across many sectors.  Fines and jailing are traumatizing to people experiencing homelessness and disrupt work towards real solutions,” said Lisa Parsons, Legal Director at Legal Council for Health Justice and a drafting attorney on the brief. 

Read the amicus brief here.

The case challenges the practice of cities like Grants Pass, which resorted to penalizing people sleeping in public spaces with bedding, such as a blanket, despite the absence of shelter in the community. 

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), alongside 27 partner organizations, filed an amicus brief (relating to amicus curiae, meaning “friend of the court”), raising the importance of the case and the impact on people experiencing homelessness in Chicago and Illinois. Pro bono partner Much Shelist supported CCH in filing the brief, and attorneys Steven Blonder, Josh Leavitt, and Charlotte Franklin were instrumental in drafting the brief.  

“The measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable. It demonstrates the character and compassion of the citizenry, and our country has made significant advances in the care and sheltering of those experiencing homelessness,” said Steve Blonder, principal at Much Shelist. “A reversal of the Ninth Circuit’s decision would be a major step backward – to a society less caring and more medieval.” 

“With homelessness and evictions most seriously impacting Black Americans, criminalizing homelessness is an additional way to make living while Black illegal and must be stopped if we are ever to attain a just society,” said Michelle Gilbert, Legal and Policy Director at the Law Center for Better Housing, a drafting organization on the brief. 

“A negative outcome in this case would exacerbate the challenges faced by people living with HIV and other chronic conditions who are also experiencing homelessness, creating additional barriers to accessing the support and services they need to transition out of homelessness and manage their chronic health conditions,” said Nadeen Israel, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at AIDS Foundation Chicago. 

While the case of Johnson v. Grants Pass serves as a focal point for legal debate, it also highlights the systemic failures that perpetuate homelessness nationwide. Punitive measures like incarceration and fines exacerbate the issue, rather than resolving it. The real solution lies in ensuring safe, decent, and affordable housing. 

“This case could affect the thousands of Illinois survivors seeking shelter and create further barriers to accessing safe housing,” said Jaclyn Zarack-Koriath, Director of Housing Advocacy at The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence. 

As the Supreme Court prepares to deliberate on this landmark case, the outcome holds significant implications for the quarter of a million people nationwide who find themselves without shelter on any given night. 

“An adverse outcome in this case could make the families we serve even more vulnerable and unstable,” said Karen Freeman-Wilson, Chief Executive Officer at Chicago Urban League, an advocacy organization that works to achieve equity for Black families and communities through social and economic empowerment. 

CCH joins the National Homelessness Law Center and hundreds of other organizations that have submitted 39 amicus briefs in support of people experiencing homelessness. 

Amicus brief partners: AIDS Foundation Chicago, All Chicago Making Homelessness History, BEDS Plus, Inc., Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago Rehab Network, Chicago Urban League, Chicago Women Take Action, Covenant House Illinois, Deborah’s Place, Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project, Healthcare Alternative Systems, Inc, Heartland Alliance Health, Housing Action Illinois, Illinois Public Health Institute, Impact for Equity, James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy, Law Center for Better Housing, Legal Council for Health Justice, LYTE Collective, North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic, Organized Communities Against Deportations, Red Line Service Institute, Safer Foundation, South Suburban PADS, Street Samaritans, The Network: Advocating Against Domestic Violence, The Night Ministry, and Thresholds. 

Nia remembers her roots as she spreads her wings

Close-up smiling portrait of Nia Hill, a Black woman in her 20s. She is wearing a white top and large, round, tortoise-shell glasses. Banner text reads: Nia remembers her roots as she spreads her wings.

Nia Hill wants you to know that the West Side of Chicago has great people who do great things. Born and raised in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, she also understands first-hand the barriers that residents in these systemically marginalized communities face.  

“A quick Google search tells you what you want to know,” said Nia on where she grew up, noting the prevalence of violence and poverty caused by institutional racism.  

Nia’s family experienced homelessness when she was in high school after losing their Section 8 voucher. They “bounced around a lot” – staying with an aunt, people from church, and hotels before eventually settling into stable housing.  

“It was a humbling experience,” she recalls, “learning how to do without a place you would normally consider home.”  

Continue reading Nia remembers her roots as she spreads her wings

Preschool Enrollment Support

Did you know? If you or your child is living in a shelter or another temporary living situation, your child can receive priority placement in Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) preschool programs and preschool programs funded by the City of Chicago. Your child can be enrolled in preschool without proof of address, income, guardianship, or other documents normally needed for enrollment.

Chicago families with preschool-age children can enroll in preschool starting April 9 for the 2024-25 school year.

If your child is 4 years old on or before September 1, 2024, they are eligible for CPS full-day and half-day programs. If your child is 3 years old on or before September 1, 2024, they are eligible for CPS half-day programs and Community Based Programs.

Continue reading Preschool Enrollment Support

SNAP Emergency Allotments Ending

En Español

The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) has announced that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will return to pre-pandemic levels beginning in March 2023. Illinois will sustain emergency SNAP benefits through February, but the federal increases will end on March 1, 2023. 

With the end of emergency benefits, SNAP participants will see benefits reduced. The reduction in SNAP benefits is a result of a federal policy change, not because of changes in individual SNAP cases. 

Since April 2020, all Illinois SNAP households received both the regular monthly benefit and an emergency SNAP allotment. Beginning on March 1, 2023, each SNAP household will only receive benefits based on factors like household size, income, and deductions. This means that the decrease in the benefit amounts will depend on each household’s size and financial circumstances. 

All SNAP recipient households will receive a client notice listing the amount of benefits they will receive. 

IDHS has also put together a resource page to help SNAP households with the transition. Customers will receive their regular normal SNAP benefits through their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card beginning in March 2023 on their regularly scheduled issuance date. 

To prepare for this change, IDHS recommends SNAP customers visit www.abe.illinois.gov and update their account if there is a change in address, increase in housing costs, or decrease in income. This will ensure that SNAP households are receiving their maximum benefits. 

If you have any questions regarding public benefits such as SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid, please contact Venus Rivera, Public Benefits Specialist at the CCH Law Project, by email at venus@chicagohomeless.org or call (312) 720-1800. 

Find a Food Pantry

Sobre el fin de las asignaciones de emergencia de SNAP (borrador)

Febrero de 2023

El Departamento de Servicios Humanos de Illinois (Illinois Department of Human Services, IDHS) ha anunciado que los beneficios del Programa Suplementario de Asistencia Nutricional (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP) volverán a los niveles anteriores a la pandemia a partir de marzo de 2023. Illinois mantendrá los beneficios de emergencia del SNAP hasta febrero, pero los aumentos federales finalizarán el 1 de marzo de 2023.

Con el fin de los beneficios de urgencia, los participantes del SNAP verán reducidos sus beneficios. La reducción de los beneficios del SNAP se debe a un cambio en la política federal, no a cambios en los casos individuales del SNAP.

Desde abril de 2020, todos los hogares SNAP de Illinois recibieron tanto el beneficio mensual regular como una asignación SNAP de emergencia. A partir del 1 de marzo de 2023, cada hogar SNAP sólo recibirá beneficios basados en factores como el tamaño del hogar, los ingresos y las deducciones. Esto significa que la reducción del monto de los beneficios dependerá del tamaño de cada hogar y de sus circunstancias económicas.

Todos los hogares beneficiarios del SNAP recibirán un aviso de cliente en el que se indicará el monto de los beneficios que recibirán.

El IDHS también ha creado una página de recursos para ayudar a los hogares SNAP con la transición. Los clientes recibirán sus beneficios normales de SNAP a través de su tarjeta de Transferencia Electrónica de Beneficios (Electronic Benefit Transfer, EBT) a partir de marzo de 2023 en su fecha de emisión regular programada.

Para prepararse para este cambio, el IDHS recomienda a los clientes de SNAP visitar www.abe.illinois.gov y actualizar su cuenta si hay un cambio de dirección, aumento de los costos de vivienda o disminución de los ingresos. Esto garantizará que los hogares beneficiarios del SNAP reciban el beneficio máximo.

Si tiene alguna pregunta sobre beneficios públicos como SNAP, TANF o Medicaid, póngase en contacto con Venus Rivera, Especialista en Prestaciones Públicas del CCH Law Project, por correo electrónico en la dirección venus@chicagohomeless.orgo por teléfono al(312) 720-1800.

Para más información, visite www.abe.illinois.gov/abe/access.

Encuentre una despensa de alimentos local en Illinois: https://eat-move-save.extension.illinois.edu/#food-finder

Encuentre una despensa de alimentos local en Chicago: www.chicagosfoodbank.org/findfood

Chicago Pays Settlement to Latina Mother After Police Officer’s Obscene Verbal Tirade, False Arrest, and Detention

PRESS RELEASE

Contact:   Ed Yohnka, ACLU of Illinois, 847-687-1129

                Vanessa Alvarez, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 773-906-3403

CHICAGO – A Chicago woman settled her federal civil rights lawsuit with the City of Chicago after police physically assaulted, falsely arrested, and detained her in June 2020. Julie Campos, a Southside Latina resident, filed the lawsuit in May 2022 to hold Chicago police accountable for unlawfully arresting her while she was working. Ms. Campos obtained substantial, undisclosed monetary damages as part of the settlement. Shortly after the filing of Ms. Campos’ suit, the officer primarily responsible for violating her constitutional rights separated from the Chicago Police Department (CPD). This is an important victory for Ms. Campos, whose goal was to get this abusive officer taken off the streets. 

“I am glad this lawsuit is over and that it was so successful,” said Julie Campos. “The officer who abused me is no longer on the streets. He – and I hope others – know there are consequences for their actions.”

On Tuesday, June 2, 2020, Ms. Campos was working at a Family Dollar store located on East 79th Street, cleaning up property damage that had occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. After Ms. Campos videoed CPD Officer Eric Taylor, who had just physically assaulted her, Officer Taylor and Officer Treacher Howard falsely arrested Ms. Campos on a trumped-up charge. Ms. Campos was then unlawfully detained for hours while being separated from her infant son.

“This was an out-of-control officer who had no business being on the street,” said Joshua Levin, staff attorney for the ACLU and one of Ms. Campos’ lawyers. “Officer Taylor had more complaints than 93% of all other CPD officers but had never been adequately disciplined or retrained. The quick and successful settlement in this case shows the City knows the officer’s actions were unjustifiable. While we are very pleased that Officer Taylor is no longer at CPD, the City must ensure that all officers are properly trained, and are disciplined and retrained when they do wrong.”

Arturo Hernandez, a senior attorney at CCH and another part of the legal team, said: “Ms. Campos could have stood silent about the misconduct she suffered at the hands of Chicago Police. Instead, she brought public attention to their unlawful conduct, and she demanded they be held accountable. This takes courage. Because of her actions, now there is one less police officer patrolling the streets of Chicago who is unfit to wear a badge.”

The officers’ body camera video shows Officers Taylor and Howard pulled into the store parking lot where Ms. Campos and other employees were busy cleaning up the property damage so that the business could reopen to serve the community.

While in the store parking lot, Officer Taylor instigated an obscene shouting match with one of Ms. Campos’ coworkers. Officer Taylor made vulgar sexual comments about the employee’s mother and oral sex, using racist epithets.

Unbeknownst to Ms. Campos, Officer Taylor sought to arrest the employee with whom he had instigated the argument. As Ms. Campos was carrying boxes through the store doorway to the dumpster, Officer Taylor charged inside, told her to “step back, step back,” and then grabbed her, forcibly shoved her, and struck her face. Neither officer checked to see if Ms. Campos was injured. 

As Officer Taylor stomped through the store, Ms. Campos began recording him on her phone and saying that he had punched her. Although Ms. Campos had a First Amendment right to record Officer Taylor and criticize his misconduct, Officer Taylor approached her, twisted her arms—forcing her to stop recording—and placed her under arrest for purportedly obstructing a police officer.

“There was no legal basis whatsoever to arrest Ms. Campos for ‘obstructing an officer’; this was a blatant violation of her constitutional rights,” the ACLU’s Levin explained.  Months later, the false charge against Ms. Campos was dropped. 

“This process was hard, from deciding to file the lawsuit to waiting through the end, but it has been important – because no officer should be able to act this way and stay on the streets,” said Ms. Campos.

The ACLU of Illinois (“ACLU”), the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (“CCH”), and the law firm of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP represented Ms. Campos in the case.

# # #

Read the May 26, 2022 Press Release

Read Arturo Hernandez’s Reflection

CCH Senior Attorney Reflects on Recent Civil Rights Victory for Ms. Julie Campos

“It will take action”… to repair relations between the police and the community.

Our client, a young single mother experiencing housing instability was at work providing for her family when her interactions with the Chicago police occurred. This incident took place during a period of civil unrest in our city following the murder of George Floyd. Relations between the police and the community, already tense, were now fractured. This was an opportunity for the police to restore relations with the community. They could have offered a hand, or at the very least, demonstrated gratitude for the employees working to restore a local business. What happened instead: our client was arrested unlawfully, detained, and was charged with resisting/obstructing a police officer.   

We (CCH, Porter Wright and ACLU of IL) obtained a substantial settlement for our client, and not long after this lawsuit was filed, the main officer involved in violating our client’s constitutional rights retired from the Chicago Police Department.

This officer had a history of numerous complaints filed against them during their career as a police officer.  

As a youth, I aspired to be an advocate for individuals who were more likely to experience adversity because of the inequities that exist in this society and our city. As a Latino man that was born and raised in Chicago, I have witnessed these inequities firsthand and have lived in communities disproportionally impacted by them. I want to be an advocate for change. I want to see us get to a place where the color of a person’s skin doesn’t impact their interactions with the police or the criminal justice system. Where it doesn’t determine the level of dignity and respect afforded to them. I want to live in city that doesn’t over-police the same communities it disinvests in.  
 

I believe relations with the police and the community are fractured but they can still be repaired. But it’s going to take action and not rhetoric to achieve this result. At CCH, we engage in work that moves us closer to a just society. This case is evidence of that, and I am humbled and honored to play a crucial role in this work.  

– Arturo Hernandez, Senior Attorney for the Law Project at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  

Related Media Coverage:

Video of Police Cam footage: https://youtu.be/rCNyyBjFeo

Press Release February 6, 2022

Press Release May 26, 2022

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Where to Turn for Help When Temperatures Drop

Originally posted January 2022, last updated December 2022.

Chicagoans should call 3-1-1 if they need weather-related assistance in frigid winter weather, including access to homeless shelters or city warming centers.

Here is a list of warming centers in the city:

Englewood Community Service Center
1140 West 79th Street, Chicago, IL 60620
312-747-0200

Garfield Community Service Center (only shelter open at night and on weekends)
10 South Kedzie Avenue, Chicago, IL 60612
312-746-5400

Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Center
4314 South Cottage Grove, Chicago, IL 60653
312-747-2300

North Area Community Service Center
845 West Wilson Avenue, Chicago, IL 60640
312-744-2580

South Chicago Community Service Center
8650 South Commercial Avenue, Chicago, IL 60617
312-747-0500

Trina Davila Community Service Center
4312 West North Avenue, Chicago, IL 60639
312-744-2014

 

In addition to functioning as a warming center, Garfield Community Service Center at 10 South Kedzie Avenue is open 24-hours day, seven days a week to connect families and residents to emergency shelter.

Chicago residents can also seek shelter at Chicago Public Library locations and select Park District buildings during business hours. Library locations and hours of operations available here. Park District information is available here.

Older adults are welcome at one of the city’s 21 Senior Centers. Location and hours are available here.

In the suburbs, people can contact police non-emergency numbers to ask about warming centers, many of which are housed in police station lobbies and libraries. To find a warming center statewide, see www.keepwarm.illinois.gov

People experiencing homelessness can seek legal aid by calling the CCH Law Project at 1 (800) 940-1119.

 

Mayra knows a little help can go a long way

Mayra Fajardo, a Latinx woman in her 20s, poses in front of the Chicago River, a big smile on her face. She is wearing a white blouse. Banner text reads: Mayra knows a little help can go a long way.

Mayra Fajardo recently graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She earned a double major in psychology and criminology/law, with a double minor in history and Spanish. Having navigated high school and college as an unaccompanied student, Mayra is passionate about using her skills and experiences to help others.  

Born and raised in Chicago, Mayra moved with her family to Ecuador at 15. A year later, she made the difficult decision to return to Chicago alone to pursue better educational opportunities. Her goal? To provide hope and support for her mother and younger sister. 

Continue reading Mayra knows a little help can go a long way

Back to school without a place to call home

Last week marked the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Suburban school districts also started school in recent weeks. After the difficulties and barriers families and students faced over the last two years due to the pandemic, it is more important than ever for schools to identify and support students experiencing homelessness. 

Continue reading Back to school without a place to call home

CCH awards college scholarships to six first-year students, celebrates seven recent graduates

Six Chicago area high school graduates have won a CCH college scholarship to support them in their higher education journeys. They were celebrated at a luncheon with CCH staff, selection committee members, and limited guests on July 28. 

CCH’s annual award of $3,500 is renewable for up to five years as students work to complete a bachelor’s or associate degree. All first-year winners also received new laptops, made possible with a grant from long-time partner, The Osa Foundation.

Twenty undergraduate students will be supported by the CCH college scholarship program during the 2022 – 2023 school year, including six first-years, six sophomores, three juniors, and five seniors. They are attending colleges and universities in California, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, and Wisconsin, and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in Georgia and Washington, D.C.

Continue reading CCH awards college scholarships to six first-year students, celebrates seven recent graduates