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Homeless services face 50% Illinois budget cut

Tue, Jun 12, 2012

As the Illinois General Assembly faces a May 31 deadline to approve the FY 2013 state budget, funds for homeless services are still facing a 50 percent cut – from $9.1 million to $4.7 million– initially proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn. Chicago’s $2.2 million share of the state money funds 18 shelters, according to Julie Dworkin, policy director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). The precariousness of these shelters’ situation depends on whether or not the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) takes internal cuts to its own programs, as it did last year, Dworkin said.

“For example, they eliminated the overnight van service. If they do that again, there may not be that many that close,” Dworkin said. “But they also got a lot of flak for trying to eliminate that van service.” Since restored, the van service addresses the oversupply of shelter beds in some neighborhoods with the oversupply of people who need them in other locales. Riders also receive Chicago Transit Authority fare cards to allow them to return the next day to their original shelters for meals and other activities.

One StreetWise vendor told editorial staff last December that he and five friends had arrived at an Uptown shelter at 4:30 p.m., ready to be transported to a West Side shelter. Instead, they learned the bus had been cancelled without notice. Three of the vendor’s friends rode CTA trains all night, one slept on a park bench, and another debated about buying crack cocaine for a friend as the requested payment for sleeping on the couch. The vendor bought a seven-day CTA pass, which cost $23 out of his $140 weekly income from selling the magazine.

A DFSS spokesperson said at the time that funding for the bus had come from Skyway lease funds, which had run out.

“Our delegate agencies are struggling and cannot afford additional cuts,” DFSS Communications Director Matt Smith said in mid-May about the impact of what he termed “drastic cuts” to the state’s Emergency and Transitional Housing program in next fiscal year’s proposed budget.

“We don’t know the extent of the impact that these cuts will have but know that they will hit hard,” Smith said. “We cannot afford to have fewer beds in our system.

“We saw nearly identical cuts by the Governor last year and had to work closely with leaders in the State Senate and State House to reverse those cuts and get these funds restored,” Smith continued. “And this is exactly what we have been doing this year. We are working very closely with lawmakers in Springfield and our allies in the Social Service area to prevent such cuts from taking place.”

If homeless services are cut, would van services that transport people to outlying shelters also be cut?

“Once again, cuts that are as drastic as those proposed by the Governor pose a threat to our homeless services system,” Smith responded. “A cut of this magnitude would be very difficult for our system to absorb.”

Surveys of service providers around the state show that 75 percent of agencies would reduce the number of clients they serve, while 50 percent would lay off staff, Dworkin said. However, in FY 2011, shelters around the state served 40,542 people – and turned away 45,673.

Simultaneously, demand for homeless services has been increasing since 2008, Dworkin said. There were 12,350 homeless students in the Chicago Public Schools during the 2008-09 school year. Last year there were 15,580, and the number is already higher this year. Most of them are living “doubled up” with friends, a precarious situation.

Homelessness prevention funds have also remained at last year’s $1.5 million level, despite advocates’ efforts to bring the funds up to $5 million.

“The argument is that now that the federal money is gone, they need to start restoring the state money,” Dworkin said in reference to $72 million the state received in federal stimulus money toward homelessness prevention over the last three years. Individuals typically receive grants averaging $1,000 for emergency payments or rent or utilities.

Last November, CCH did a survey that showed half of Illinois agencies would run out of their recession-era homeless prevention funds by yearend. In the first three months of this fiscal year, Chicago and suburban Cook County turned away 2,300 applicants, Dworkin said.

Quinn faults unpaid liabilities to the state’s pension system, increased benefits promised without the necessary revenue to back them and a $2 billion shortfall in the Medicaid appropriation for his austerity budget. He noted in prepared material that his $24.8 billion budget reduces discretionary spending to below 2008 levels. He said he reduced his own budget and that of most agencies at least nine percent and urged other agencies to do likewise.

Written by: Suzanne Hanney
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

Sarah Simmons contributing

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