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Rahm: ‘Invest in these stories of homelessness’

Wed, Jan 2, 2013

“It’s not how much money you’ve spent but how many lives you’ve touched,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said December 14 of Chicago’s Plan 2.0 to end homelessness.

“Invest in the stories you’ve heard,” Emanuel said of the seven priorities in the seven-year Plan 2.0, each one explained by a different official or formerly homeless person during the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness’s annual Breakfast with the Mayor.

These priorities include:

– A crisis response system that returns people to housing quickly. By 2019, funds for coordinated prevention/emergency shelter/interim housing will double: from $2.2 million to $4.4 million.

– Access to stable and affordable housing — roughly 2000 more units of both rapid rehousing and permanent supportive housing along with a central referral system to prioritize access by vulnerability and length of homelessness

– Youth homelessness — more services so that today’s homeless youth do not become homeless adults. Specifically, three new drop-in centers, one each on the North, South and West Sides; and 100 new youth shelter beds

– Employment to create a path out of homelessness through workforce programs, advocacy against discrimination based on criminal history and micro-lending for entrepreneurs.

– Advocacy and civic engagement to engage all Chicago in a plan that creates a path toward securing a home for everyone. Not just the meager “pastor’s fund and mats on the floor” that Randall Doubet-King, retired United Church of Christ minister and a Chicago Alliance board member described from 12 years ago.

– Cross systems integration over the public and private sector, with the establishment of Chicago’s own Interagency Council on Homelessness by the end of 2013 and increased collaboration with U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Illinois Department of Corrections and Chicago Public Schools.

– Capacity building so that Chicago can implement Plan 2.0 goals and new federal law that requires permanent housing within 30 days for newly homeless people.

Plan 2.0 was unveiled August 23 at a supportive housing site on the West Side, where Emanuel also announced that it would receive $2.5 million in new city money. This money includes $500,000 for job preparation and placement for 220 people; $1 million for the three new homeless youth drop-in centers; $1 million for the new youth shelter beds.

This funding comes not from new taxes but from privatizing the City’s mobile outreach services to homeless people. Catholic Charities employs 34 full-timers and 15 part-timers compared to 53 under the City’s management.

The Chicago Alliance’s Breakfast with the Mayor, however, offered a mostly new audience for Plan 2.0. The exclusive annual event brings together not only homeless policymakers, service providers and homeless people themselves but members of the business community and major donors. There were moments of both levity and fun after coffee and rolls at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Emanuel said that he discarded his prepared remarks after listening to the seven stories. In particular he was moved by Leturyurin Woods, a domestic violence survivor who found job training through the CARA program and permanent housing through the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund.

“Behind Ms. Woods there are thousands of women and thousands of children — government is meant to stand behind them and help them get on with their lives after living with something nobody should ever have to do,” a teary-eyed Emanuel said before he hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.

Dr. Nonie Brennan, CEO of the Chicago Alliance, presented Emanuel with its silver encircled heart logo pin (featured in the StreetWise Gift Guide December 5) and a framed picture from the August 23 event.
“You’ve done a wonderful thing for the Mayor because I was short one Hanukkah gift,” Emanuel quipped.

Chicago Alliance board member Jason Tyler, meanwhile, related to the struggles of Starnica Rodgers, 19, who went from house to house last year until she found a program for pregnant teens. She now has a son and her own apartment and is going to college.

“That was me,” Tyler, senior vice president at Northern Trust, said of Rodgers’ son. “And Ms. Woods was my mother. My connection to the city of Chicago comes from that struggle.”

Tyler continued, “How we go from struggle to disaster is a thin line; at any time we can find ourselves on the other side of that line. This is a test of what we as a community are willing to tolerate.”

The breakfast also included “Partner in Change” Awards to state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and state Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats, for protecting the emergency transitional housing program. They chair the Appropriations and Human Services committees in their respective chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. Richard Rowe received the same award for ensuring homeless people’s voices were heard as chair of Chicago’s Planning Council on Homelessness, and as a member of both the Chicago Alliance Consumer’s Commission, and the 2.0 steering committee.

By Suzanne Hanney,
StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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