South Side Weekly: ‘Everyone Is Mad at the Wrong People’: Black Organizers Call for Focus and Nuance in the Affordable Housing Blame Game

Wendy Benitez in an orange shirt and her daughter in a blue cap walk down the sidewalk.

By Wendy Wei and Leslie Hurtado, April 29, 2024

While anti-migrant sentiments have been expressed by many Chicagoans of different backgrounds, much media focus has been on the Black community’s historical tension with Latinx communities. However, lifelong Black housing advocates say that the energy spent on anti-migrant protests could be more productively used if it was channeled toward addressing the root causes of housing instability in the city.

According to DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies, in 2021, before the first bus arrived from Texas, the city was already short 120,000 affordable housing units to accommodate Chicago’s low-income renter households. 

That same year, the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services counted 3,000 people in shelters, and 702 sheltering on the street (though this number could be as high as 1,500). 73 percent of this population was Black.

Street homelessness is only part of the picture. In 2021, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated that 68,440 people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago, with most temporarily staying with others, or “doubling up.” In their report, Black Chicagoans made up more than half of the total population experiencing homelessness.

Hendricks says that frustrations have been brewing since the 2008 Great Recession, and were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Black Chicagoans faced severe disparities. Despite constituting about 30 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 60 percent of its COVID-19 fatalities and a quarter of Illinois’ confirmed cases. 

“Because poor people were under a lot of stress and pressure, when they see somebody getting a resource, and they know they’ve been denied some space, they blame those folks and they blame the people who are providing them with those resources. And it becomes a racial tension,” Washington said. “So that’s a misunderstanding of the real situation.We have two crises. A migrant crisis and a housing [crisis].” 

Oral Arguments Begin in Johnson v. Grants Pass Case, Determining the Constitutionality of Criminalizing Homelessness 

Advocates to address homelessness hold signs with a solution of Housing not Handcuff in front of the the Supreme Court

By Sam Paler-Ponce, interim associate director of policy 

On Monday, April 22, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court began oral arguments in Johnson v. Grants Pass, a case deciding if cities have the right to penalize people experiencing homelessness for sleeping outdoors. 

Listen to the oral argument by clicking here.

The City of Grants Pass argues the city is just following the trend of most other cities, as many cities across the country are already arresting and fining people experiencing homelessness. However, Grants Pass has taken the most extreme posture: there is nowhere, at no time, where people living outside can sleep with things like a blanket or pillow. 

Cruel and Unusual Punishment 

At the heart of Johnson v. Grants Pass lies the interpretation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. In 1962, the Supreme Court weighed in on a similar issue in the case of Robinson v. California. The case struck down a California law that made it a crime to “be addicted to the use of narcotics.” 

The court held that the law may not criminalize someone’s status as a person with a substance use disorder and must instead target some kind of criminal act. Therefore, a state may punish a person for the illegal purchase, sale, or possession of narcotics, and—absent any evidence of illegal drug use— the state of California could not punish someone simply for existing with a substance use disorder. 

Martin v. Boise 

The 2018 case of Martin v. Boise challenged the city of Boise’s enforcement of camping and disorderly conduct ordinances against persons experiencing homelessness—those who need to sleep in public in the absence of adequate housing or shelter. 

Now six years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by the city of Boise to review the case Martin v. Boise (formerly Bell v. Boise). This leaves in place earlier rulings under the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that people experiencing street homelessness could no longer be arrested simply because they are homeless. 

Dozens of court cases have since cited Martin v. Boise, including courts in Florida, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia. 

Criminalizing Homelessness 

As the U.S. 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. 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.  

In Grants Pass, people are issued $295 tickets for using a blanket to stay warm when they have nowhere else to go. Punitive measures like incarceration and fines exacerbate the issue, rather than resolve it. The real solution lies in ensuring safe, decent, and affordable housing. 

Local Insight 

Over 1,000 organizations and public leaders across the country have filed more than 40 amicus briefs (“amici”) in support of Gloria Johnson and homeless rights in the landmark case.  

An amicus brief is submitted by a person or group not directly involved in a legal case but is permitted to support the court by providing information, expertise, or insight relevant to the case. These briefs, known as “amici,” aim to inform the court about potential public policy consequences of a ruling. 

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, alongside 27 partner organizations, filed an amicus brief, raising the importance of the case and the impact on people experiencing homelessness in Chicago and Illinois. 

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to take a position by June 2024.

View the transcript of the argument by clicking here.

Chicago Tribune: Chicago to have one unified shelter structure for homeless and migrants, city and state officials say

Migrants attend a religious service before eating outside a shelter in Chicago's Lower West Side on March 4, 2024.

By Nell Salzman, April 22

The city and state are in the planning stages to combine Chicago’s legacy homeless shelter system with its system for migrants, according to government officials, and turn it into a unified shelter structure, an idea advocates for the homeless have long championed.

Sam Paler-Ponce, interim associate director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said combining the systems is a “move in the right direction.” The biggest benefit, he said, is that asylum-seekers will have a wider array of supportive services made available to them: employment, food and health care.

But combining the systems could also lead to an “influx in shelter bed demand,” he said.

According to recent data from the organization, there are more than 68,000 people currently experiencing homelessness in Chicago. Nearly 37,000 people accessed homeless services throughout the year. These figures don’t include migrants.

Logan Center: Many of the city’s homeless are not on the streets on a rainy winter night

The back of a woman in a beanie holds a yellow sign reading "Zone 17B."

By Allison Beck and Julius Philp, April 9, 2024

Multiple studies in cities across the country, including New York CityChicago and Houston, have shown that not only does the PIT count miss people that it is intended to capture, but it excludes those living in their cars or abandoned buildings and those in temporary living situations like motels and doubling up.

Doubling up is one of the most common ways that people experience homelessness. It happens when a person or group of people are unable to afford their own housing and are forced to live with others, often leading to overcrowding. It’s also one of the experiences of homelessness that isn’t considered in the point in time count, which is why researchers from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Vanderbilt University created a way to measure it using publicly available data.

“We’ve seen doubled up homelessness is starting to be funded alongside street and shelter homelessness,” said Sam Paler-Ponce, the interim associate director of city policy at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “I don’t think that would have been as possible without a measure to describe the total scope.”

Tribune: Bring Chicago Home–What voters need to know about the referendum

A group of protestors holds up a banner saying "Bring Chicago Home."

By Alice Yin and A.D. Quig

Since 2018, a coalition of homeless advocacy organizations, labor unions and progressive politicians has been pushing the city to designate a special revenue stream for Chicago’s homeless population. Christening themselves as the Bring Chicago Home campaign, they argue the city must address its dearth of affordable housing by raising the one-time tax on property sales.

On Tuesday evening, polls will close in the March primary election in which Chicago voters will decide the fate of a yearslong grassroots campaign to raise taxes for a fund to address homelessness, also known as Bring Chicago Home. Some Chicagoans have already cast their ballots early.

CCH is a proud member of the Bring Chicago Home coalition.

Sun-Times: Housing loss, rising rents, evictions: How Chicago’s homelessness problem evolved

A modern apartment complex with gray walls.

By Alden Loury, Mar 9, 2024

 A WBEZ analysis of Zillow rental data showed the average rent in Cook County rose by 25% from January 2021 to March 2023 — four times more than the 6% increase during an equivalent length of time before the pandemic. An inadequate supply of housing, rising rents and more evictions all contribute to the homelessness crisis.

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless routinely reminds us of the tens of thousands of people who simply can’t afford what it costs in Chicago to put a roof over their heads — so they double-up with others. It’s not about drug abuse, mental illness or similar issues that make some people less sympathetic to needs of the unhoused.

On March 19, Chicagoans will vote on the Bring Chicago Home proposal to restructure the Real Estate Transfer Tax to create a dedicated revenue stream for Chicagoans experiencing homelessness. CCH is a proud coalition member of Bring Chicago Home.

ABC7: Public safety concerns around homelessness in Chicago as crisis grows

By Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel, Tom Jones, Maggie Green and Adriana Aguilar on Thursday, February 15, 2024

A growing number of people are living in Chicago without stable housing. An estimated 68,000 Chicagoans are experiencing homelessness according to a new report. That’s equal the population of Skokie.

This recent report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates more than 68,000 are without stable housing here, an increase of 4.5% from the year before.

The city’s official homelessness count only includes people living in shelters or on the streets.

“How do you generate the revenue that you need in order to meet some of these needs that continue to exist?” said U.S. Rep. Davis.

The Bring Chicago Home initiative aims to do just that. If passed next month by voters, the Real Estate Transfer Tax would be raised for high-end properties to create an affordable housing fund for the homeless.

CCH is proud to be a coalition supporter of Bring Chicago Home.

WBEZ: Chicago’s elections board plans to appeal a ruling that invalidates tax referendum

By Tessa Weinberg, Feb 27, 2024

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners decided Tuesday it will appeal a ruling invalidating a referendum question known as Bring Chicago Home. The proposal is one of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s top priorities and has been a longtime goal of progressive organizers.

“People can still go out and vote for the referendum. The referendum is still on the ballot. No one should stop voting for the referendum just because of (the judge’s) order,” said Ed Mullen, an election attorney representing the Bring Chicago Home campaign.

WTTW: A ‘Latino Voices’ Community Conversation: Homelessness in Chicago

By Emily Soto, February 26, 2024

In CCH’s most recent homeless estimate report, 90% of Latinx community members experiencing homelessness live doubled up. WTTW’s FIRSTHAND: Homeless series held a discussion hosted by “Chicago Tonight: Latino Voices” host Joanna Hernandez. She spoke to Jose Muñoz, executive director of La Casa Norte, Marty Castro, president and CEO of Casa Central, and Raul Gonzalez, a founding member of the Ojala Foundation, Latino Muslims of Chicago to understand what work is being done and the barriers to finding help and some possible solutions.