WTTW: Budget impasse leaves homeless groups out in the cold

By Paris Schutz

Hundreds of thousands of Illinois’ homeless and low-income residents are caught up in the eight month state budget impasse. A coalition of homeless service providers who pleaded with the governor on Friday to unlock $310 million worth of state funding say they will likely only get a small part of their wish.

A persistent group of nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless met with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday. (WTTW photo)
A persistent group of nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless met with Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday. (WTTW photo)

The governor’s office says he would support releasing $40 million in federal pass-through money that was already slated for these programs. That money would fund development of affordable housing units. But the General Assembly has to craft a bill, pass it and send it to the governor for that to happen.

The governor’s office would not support the release of the remaining $270 million that many providers say they need before they start laying off workers and closing doors. It could literally leave the most vulnerable residents without any help.

“What won’t be funded is any of the state’s homeless programs for adults, homeless prevention programs, supportive housing programs, housing for youth, funding for rental subsidies, foreclosure prevention,” said Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Dworkin notes that the money the organizations are requesting exists outside of the state’s main budget and lies in special funds that are for the sole purpose of funding these programs.

“We can’t understand why the governor would choose to let these funds sit there while homeless youth are going to end up back on the streets,” she said.

Wednesday’s news comes after the homeless providers and a group of homeless youth that have gone through rehabilitative programs met with the governor. One was 22-year-old Caprice Williams.

She says she told the governor she was, until recently, pregnant and living out of her car, and says he hugged her after telling him her story. Williams lived at a nonprofit called Harmony Village, which helped treat her for depression and then placed her in a job that she says she currently holds at Walgreens.

Harmony Village could be forced to close its doors by April without state funding.

“I hope this doesn’t have to close because other girls like me need to be taken care of,” Williams said.

“There will be a great reduction in services now for homeless and a massive erosion of social services in our state,” Dworkin said. “I don’t know that the governor and lawmakers understand this. You can’t just instantly put it back together when the situation gets resolved. These things can’t be undone.”

The bills in the General Assembly that would unlock the total $310 million in homeless funding are HB4955 and SB2603.

The bill’s house sponsor, State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch, says he hasn’t yet spoken to the governor about this bill. Last year, the governor and the General Assembly agreed to close a $3 billion budget partially by sweeping money out of special funds, like the one tabbed for homeless programs. The current year’s budget deficit could wind up at more than $6 billion.

“These special funds should not be [swept] and used for any other purpose than to help the most vulnerable, which is what they were intended to do,” he said.

The legislature would have to pass the bill with a supermajority in both the House and the Senate. That is something that is highly unlikely to happen, despite Democrats holding a supermajority of members in both chambers.