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No Home for the Holidays

Wed, Nov 23, 2011

Jim LoBianco

It is the time of year when many Chicagoans find their thoughts turning to plans for the holiday season. They are busy worrying about decorations, dinners, and the home where their family celebrations will occur. Unfortunately, these issues are not shared by everyone in our city.

Too many Chicagoans will spend the coming weeks worried more about where they will get their next meal. Too many Chicagoans will be concerned with trying to find any indoor place to sleep. Too many Chicagoans will be hanging blankets on cardboard boxes to stay warm, rather than hanging ornaments on a tree. Too many Chicagoans will have no home for the holidays.

In the past, homeless service providers and advocates rallied together to put pressure on Chicago’s former Mayor, Richard M. Daley, to pressure City government to do more. As a result of their advocacy and Mayor Daley’s personal commitment to help those in need, the City of Chicago was a place where anyone willing to accept a shelter bed was guaranteed a warm place to sleep. Now, in the winter of 2011, that guarantee is sorely tested.

This week’s edition of StreetWise Magazine focuses on the state of Chicago’s shelter system. StreetWise Editor, Suzanne Hanney, and her staff have interviewed a number of the City’s leaders in homelessness prevention. The message is consistent from each person: shelter beds are disappearing, resources are shrinking, and demand is increasing. One interesting fact that comes through in these interviews is that no one is accusing City government of being the bad guy; rather, all agree that Mayor Emanuel’s administration is doing everything to protect homeless services. The question is, will it be enough?

Last month a long-running shelter in Uptown shut down because it could not recover from an operating deficit of approximately $200,000. For 32 years REST provided emergency shelter for hundreds of homeless men and women who would otherwise sleep in Chicago alleys or parks. The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and 46th Ward Alderman, James Cappleman, worked hard to preserve the beds. In the end the agency Sarah’s Circle agreed to take over the 50-bed program for women. The men’s beds are still up in the air; but, DFSS is hopeful that a contract will soon be signed to preserve those beds as well.

Although it appears that the loss of beds precipitated by the closing of REST may have been averted, the reality is that a number of Chicago’s homeless shelters find themselves on the brink of financial crisis. State and Federal funding cuts, combined with a decrease in individual and foundation giving, have pushed the city’s homeless service safety net to the breaking point.

This holiday season please consider how you might support one of the city’s homeless service agencies. If you’re like me, as you travel around Chicago you may be left thinking that there are more homeless on the streets now than in recent memory. Unfortunately, that perception is probably true. Now more than ever the homeless service system in Chicago needs your support. Your donation could be the difference between a warm bed and a hot meal or a cardboard box and an empty stomach.

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either tip line@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 18).

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

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