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Positive changes in troubling times

Fri, Feb 3, 2012

2012 is starting off with a major development in the world of Chicago’s homeless services. The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness and the Chicago Emergency Fund have merged.

Aren’t you blown away by that news? No?

OK, unless you spend your day working through the minutia of what it takes to successfully serve the poor and homeless in this city, you probably have no idea what either organization is, let alone the significance of the merger. StreetWise Editor, Suzanne Hanney, does a wonderful job of objectively breaking down the detailed history and future of the new entity, (see page 10). Let me provide a more personal/opinionated take.

At the heart of any successful effort to solve a social ill is the ability to organize. The more effective a lobby is at consolidating its energy into a single powerful voice, the more successful that lobby is at getting others to listen, (and ultimately act). The coming together of the Alliance and the Emergency Fund has given homeless service providers a virtual bullhorn through which to rally the cause.

The Alliance, (itself the product of a previous merger), has been an effective policy advocate for the homeless in the halls of government. It has aggressively and successfully lobbied City Hall to maintain Chicago’s commitment to homeless services, as well as helping make Springfield restore much needed funding, and Washington craft better legislation to regulate housing and homeless services at the national level.

The Emergency Fund has for years been a critical provider of cash assistance to Chicagoans in crisis, disbursing millions of dollars to help men, women and children keep their homes and get back on their feet. The Emergency Fund has also been a skilled fundraiser, successfully getting the corporate world to open its collective checkbook to serve the needy.

The joining of these two organizations is a particularly savvy move. It can at times be easy for government and corporate entities to dismiss policy groups. Without money and influence behind you, even the most just cause can get ignored. By combining the policy strength of the Alliance with the financial acumen of the Emergency Fund, the board of this new entity helped guarantee homeless service providers a seat at the tables of influence for years to come. Whereas a policy organization can be shelved and forgotten, it is hard to snub an agency that is poised to become the single largest distributor of poverty-based funding in Illinois.

The new Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness promises to be a powerful tool in the effort to combat homelessness in Chicago. In partnership with the venerable Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the city’s homeless service providers have concentrated their lobby into two strategic advocacy arms: the Alliance, which can influence the system as a broker of government funding, and the Coalition, which receives no government funding, as the watchdog that can pressure the system from the outside.

By Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 22).

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