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Plan 2.0 addresses youth homelessness

Thu, Sep 27, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel [left] listens to Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) John Pfeiffer at a news conference unveiling Plan 2.0. Photo: Matt Smith, DFSS

Plan 2.0 is Chicago’s new seven-year strategy against homelessness, but one of its seven goals looks farther into the future: to the next generation.

“If we can cut off homelessness among youth, give them a job and an education, they won’t be a statistic,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at the Plan 2.0 unveiling August 23 at New Moms Inc., a supportive housing facility on the West Side. Plan 2.0 will increase the city’s youth shelter and transitional beds by nearly 40 percent, to help the young people “slow up, get their feet under them and get the right direction,” Emanuel said.

Plan 2.0 includes $2.5 million in new money against homelessness using existing city funds, not new taxes. The breakdown includes $500,000 for job preparation and placement for 220 people. There’s also $2 million against youth homelessness: $1 million for new or expanded support centers on the North, South, and West Sides; and $1 million to serve 400 youth annually with 100 year-round shelter beds, a 38 percent increase.

Anne Holcomb, coordinator of continuing care at the Open Door shelter in West Town, said she was very pleased that homeless youth made into the Plan for the first time and that the City of Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth has been legitimized as the body to address their issues.

“This is great because homeless youth have been part of the Task Force since the beginning and their voices made a direct impact,” Holcomb said of the 30 youth who testified during last January’s Plan 2.0 charrettes. The young people requested 24/7 drop-in centers across the city as safe alternatives to the street; they also urged tripling the supply of permanent youth housing (from 266 beds to 800).

“A year ago tripling the capacity and/or the homeless youth drop-in centers were thought of as an overwhelming task; now they’re in the Plan as a [seven-year] goal,” Holcomb said. “Another example is the services all over the city: the North, South and West Sides, not just the North Side.”

Holcomb said she was also glad that a yearly count of homeless youth is a short-term (two-year) action item. The last study was done in 2005 by the state, but Holcomb said she feels anecdotally that the years since the recession have raised the number of homeless youth.

“When whole families are evicted, the youth end up in our shelter,” she said. “The families’ resources are squeezed, so they say to the older youth, ‘you’re 18, you’re on your own.’” Although 20 to 40 percent of homeless youth have left their homes because of gender preferences, the remaining 60 percent have other reasons, she said.

“What the Mayor is giving is generous, but it’s not going to end youth homelessness,” Holcomb said. For that reason, she said she especially liked the tenet of the plan that advocates getting the whole city of Chicago on board to abolish homelessness: private sector foundations, corporations, individuals, other bodies of government. “Embrace this moment,” she said.

The Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth dates to the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley and members of the HELLO (Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles) youth activism group co-sponsored by The Night Ministry, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Lakeview Action Coalition. Daley was moved by HELLO activists’ testimony at a city budget hearing in 2009 and accepted an invitation to their yearly art show. Later, their draft plan, (which included requests for housing, for college work-study programs, for drop-in centers and for reduced rate CTA passes), made it onto Mayor-Elect Emanuel’s agenda.

Information given to Emanuel showed that Chicago’s eight providers of housing to homeless youth had 189 beds and in 2010 turned away 4,775 unaccompanied young people – including 207 under age 18. The 40-page Plan 2.0, meanwhile, notes that over 16,600 Chicago Public School students were homeless or doubled up with other households during the 2011-12 school year. That’s a 35 percent increase from the previous three years.

Plan 2.0 was the result of an eight-month, community-driven process, according to Nicole Amling, director of public policy at the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, and primary author along with John Pfeiffer, deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS). Preparation began last September, when a 16-member steering committee picked nine issues, later narrowed down to six. Youth homelessness made the agenda and so did employment, permanent housing access and supply, systems integration, coordinated access and prevention, interim and rapid rehousing.

Then in January, two days of charrettes drew feedback from 445 unduplicated people: homeless consumers of services, service provider organizations, government agencies, experts. Between March and June, eight community decision-making bodies provided feedback on draft priorities and goals. The Interim Housing and Rapid Rehousing Task Force, with input from 19 providers, consumers and funders, also developed additional recommendations.

In June, the Chicago Planning Council on Homelessness approved Plan 2.0. The Planning Council is a 23-member volunteer board that includes government entities, service providers, consumers of homeless services, and the Chicago Alliance, which is the major private sector partner advancing the Plan. While the Planning Council oversees the Plan, the Chicago Alliance and the DFSS manage its implementation.
Emanuel, however, delayed the Plan 2.0 unveiling until more funding could be found for the youth items. DFSS Commissioner Evelyn Diaz then put out a request for proposals that resulted in a contract with Catholic Charities to privatize mobile outreach services at less than half the City’s current cost.
Diaz said at the August 23 press conference that the City pays $5.5 million today for mobile outreach but will pay only $2.5 million after October 1. After administrative costs, the $1.7 million savings will be applied to the new youth homelessness policies.

Rahm unveils Plan 2.0.

“The 40 percent increase in kids is worth the two months delay because it will make a difference going forward,” Emanuel said.

According to DFSS spokesperson Matt Smith, there are now 53 City employees doing mobile outreach, which involves transporting people to shelters or cooling centers, doing well-being checks, giving food boxes or checking under bridges if an alderman reports homeless people there. Catholic Charities would employ 49 people (34 full-time and 15 part-time). Using part-timers would give them flexibility to add people during high demand and reduce numbers when times were slow. Crews are on duty 24/7 and will overlap one hour during shift changes “so nothing gets lost in the shuffle.”

Smith said the City is asking Catholic Charities to grant job interviews to City workers who were laid off in the privatization. “Catholic Charities’ salaries for full-time employees is approximately $34,500 (equivalent of $16.60 per hour) which is better than or competitive with other non-profit social service providers.”

“What we like about the Plan is that it has very specific action items and a very specific number of housing units they’re going to create whereas the last [10-year] Plan [to end homelessness, begun in 2003] was open and broad,” said Julie Dworkin, director of policy at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and a member of the Plan 2.0 steering committee. “But no money was specified except for the little bit that was announced. It doesn’t specify in the Plan how anything will be paid for.”

Dworkin continued, “We’re absolutely thrilled with the new shelters and drop-in centers but concerned that if this is the only strategy for coming up with new money, it’s not going to be sustainable.” The city-run program was “notoriously bad,” she said, “people had to wait all night to get picked up. But my concern is that you take something that was terrible and give somebody half as much money to do the same thing, how can you expect them to do better?”

She referred to her letter to the editor in the August 30 Chicago Sun-Times in which she praised Pfeiffer and Diaz and the comprehensiveness of Plan 2.0. Her letter acknowledged the difficult financial times and the need for creativity in finding new money. “We hope we can work with the mayor to find existing untapped resources, like tax-increment financing funds and other new funding streams, to make this plan a reality.”

Besides Youth Homelessness and Advocacy/Civic Engagement, the seven goals of Plan 2.0 include:

– Crisis response system that prevents homelessness whenever possible and rapidly returns people to stable housing. Instead of one system for prevention funds and another for accessing shelter, a key objective is coordination of prevention, emergency shelter and interim housing by the end of 2013. By 2019, prevention and diversion resources should double: from $2.2 million to $4.4 million.

– Access to Stable and Affordable Housing. Objectives include increasing rapid rehousing units from 737 to 2,768 and permanent supportive housing units growing from 6,842 to 8,814. Short-term, a central referral system will prioritize access to permanent supportive housing by level of vulnerability and length of homelessness. Long-term, a citywide landlord outreach strategy will recruit new rental partners; there will also be landlord incentives and protections to increase housing options for ex-offenders. Using federal and local funds, foreclosures will be turned into affordable housing. Home sharing and host homes will be explored as options for low-income households and youth.

– Increased opportunities for meaningful employment upon exit from homeless assistance. Short-term, the Plan seeks to build more partnerships between workforce programs, emergency shelters, and interim housing programs to help people gain income; it would also develop a standard employment readiness assessment linked to job services. Long-term, it would expand employment and housing opportunities for ex-offenders by increasing clemency and expungement legal services and would advocate against employment discrimination based on criminal history. Micro-lending programs could encourage entrepreneurs.

– Cross-Systems Integration across public and private systems of care. Establish the Chicago Interagency Council on Homelessness by the end of 2013. Increase resources for people with serious mental illness who are able to access disability benefits. Increase collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Jesse Brown VA Medical Center and partner with the Illinois Department of Corrections to prevent homelessness upon discharge and recidivism. Provide comprehensive services to homeless students and families in Chicago Public Schools. Increase affordability and accessibility of public transportation for homeless people.

– Capacity Building – ensuring a strong system able to implement Plan 2.0 goals as well as those of the federal HEARTH (Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing ) Act of 2009. The latter seeks to ensure that individuals and families who become homeless return to permanent housing within 30 days. Among the short-term goals, bed coverage and data quality in the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) would be increased so that system gaps could be addressed.

Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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