Only One Paycheck Away

“For many families, homelessness is not something that happens overnight,” said Emily Metz, University of Chicago Urban Labs. Source: abc7

With a lack of affordable housing, jobs, living wages, mental health and other medical services, and post-incarceration supports, Chicago is a perfect storm of factors creating a highly visible homeless population. 80,384 people were homeless in Chicago at some point during 2016 with 80% living doubled-up with family or friends according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. This phenomenon of being “doubled-up” is nothing new to modern homelessness which is said to have begun over thirty years ago. What is new is the increasing numbers of people with these living arrangements.

Living doubled-up is a precarious situation because people can end up on the streets without notice due to rising tensions from people living in close quarters, fear of eviction for lease violations, and other problems. In fact, 50% of homeless families served in the shelter system in Chicago had been living doubled-up prior to or after entering the shelter system within that same year.

Some sobering statistics from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty include:

One-third of the homeless population is made up of individuals with untreated mental illnesses.

69% of males and 58% of females on the street were formerly incarcerated.

90% of homeless women report domestic violence as the reason for their leaving their homes.

While national racial demographics show 39% of the homeless population is African American, Chicago data shows 76% of the homeless population is African American.

Hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans might not be homeless yet but are at serious risk of becoming homeless:

About 52% of Chicago renters qualify as Extremely Low Income (ELI) households, defined as a household earning no more than $19,706 annually.

One out of every four ELI households receive public rental assistance, leaving most people unsupported and in serious risk of losing a place to live.

When homeless people attempt to create a dwelling space for themselves, the City takes action and often demolishes these places. Here are four highly-visible and publicized examples in less than a year:

June 2018: Lower Wacker Drive Triangle Encampment near Wabash Avenue was cleared out and fences were erected.

January 2018: Viaduct encampment at Belmont and Kedzie was cleared out during frigid winter temperatures – without notice to the alderman or warning to the residents. Alicia Rodriguez, Deputy Commissioner of Homeless Programs – Family and Support Services, called this action “unfortunate.”

September 2017: The City forced residents of the “tent cities” under the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue bridges to clear the way for a six-month construction project. Bike paths planned as part of the project will prevent the return of the homeless population.

September 2017: Residents who relocated from the Wilson and Lawrence Avenue bridges were ordered to leave the new spot they selected along the public way at Wilson and Marine Drive.

The City of Evanston immediately north of Chicago and served by the same CTA rail service hired social workers to help support the homeless population who uses the library regularly. Chicago followed Evanston’s lead by partnering with agencies to place social workers at its Uptown and Bezazian branches (Uptown is home to 9% of Chicago’s homeless people).

However, Evanston is far from a paragon of social responsibility. A study by the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University found there is a 9,927-household demand of affordable housing in Evanston and Skokie, but only 3,945 units available. Housing policy and planning analyst Savannah Clement says fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Cook County is $1,232, compared to a $2,454 average rent in Evanston. So far, the municipality has repeatedly offered overviews and plans with a frustrating amount of inaction.

Homelessness is on the rise in Chicago. Let’s hope apathy is not, too.



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