Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
The shoe is on the other foot for Jackie Edens, but she can still feel other people’s pain.
Edens directed the City of Chicago’s homeless services from 1989 to 1998 and now she is executive director of the Inner Voice. The nonprofit has two of over 20 programs (some new but mostly renewals of existing programs) jeopardized by a $3.6 million shortfall in this year’s federal funding for Chicago’s Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness, which was announced March 13.
“Where is the outcry?” Edens asked. “Where is the advocacy? Where are the people marching around city hall?”
Chicago’s Plan 2.0 to End Homelessness, like its predecessor plan of 10 years, received $49 million this year although it has received as much as $54 million in years past from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This year, HUD anticipated $200 million more in requests for homeless funding from communities across the nation than its revenue for them.
As a result, HUD asked all local Continuums of Care to rank their myriad programs; Tier 1 would be assured of funding while Tier 2 “may be at risk of not being renewed,” according to a January letter from the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, which jointly administers Chicago’s Plan 2.0 with the City of Chicago Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).
HUD will fund all Tier 1 projects across the country before funding Tier 2 projects. This second round of money – possibly announced next month – will go to successive locales whose applications score highest nationally.
Funding was renewed for 155 Chicago programs in Tier 1, among 183 overall, according to Emergency Fund Director Kathleen Molnar, speaking for the Chicago Alliance.
“Since we don’t know about the new projects (and 1 was intentionally ranked at the bottom of Tier 1) I’m hesitant to say exactly where the funding line was/is,” she wrote in an email. New projects encompassed a central referral system for putting people into housing, expansion of the Homeless Management Information System and a CoC planning project.
Molnar also described the Chicago Planning Council’s methodology.
“Projects were ranked/prioritized according to an average of the last 3 years of Evaluation Instrument scores (because we did not anticipate having to rank projects, one of the CoC Committees was revising the instrument so only an abbreviated version was used); the priorities of Plan 2.0, balancing geographical impact, and project type (for example, if all of one project type such as supportive services had ranked the lowest in scoring, shifts would have been made so the system was not left without any of those necessary services).”
The $49 million in renewals announced March 13 includes $2.3 million for four DFSS projects and $1.72 million for Catholic Charities’ New Hope Apartments, which offer housing and intensive case management for homeless families with children under 18.
Among other assured Tier 1 line items are:
Six programs of Housing Opportunities for Women (HOW) at $1.99 million overall;
Four Thresholds programs at a total of $1.29 million;
$461,490 for A Safe Haven’s Shelter Plus Care program; S+C programs provide rental assistance for hard-to-serve homeless populations with disabilities such as serious mental illness, chronic substance abuse or AIDS.
$276,894 for Heartland Health Outreach North Side and $207,766 for its S+C II program.
However, Inner Voice has two programs at No. 169 and 170 in Tier 2 (along with three other programs assured funding in Tier 1).
Pioneer House, No. 169, is transitional housing for 16 single male ex-offenders in a building Inner Voice owns at 4458 W. Jackson St. The Learning Center, at 170, is a supportive services program with $325,000 in proposed funding. Its case managers attach themselves to clients staying in transitional housing, which Edens describes as “some of the most barebones shelters out there.” Clients can come into the office to see case managers, but more likely these staff members will also visit them in the shelters, since many have children they would have to transport.
“I am faced with two choices: borrowing from something else or taking out a line of credit,” said Edens, who came out of retirement last fall to head Inner Voice, which was on the brink of bankruptcy. The worst part is the uncertainty, she said. The contract for Pioneer House expired Feb. 28, well before Tier 2 funding is expected to be announced.
Meanwhile, the Learning Center contract expires June 30. She risks putting money toward a program that may no longer be government-funded and she also has just a small cushion of time for staff who may lose their jobs. Banks are also unwilling to extend lines of credit to agencies dependent on government funding.
“Just as I see the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s a train and this is a HUD train,” Edens said. “They wonder why agencies are going out of business when they rob Peter to pay Paul. The government is setting it up.”
Closing a program is also repugnant because if Tier 2 funding becomes available and the program is closed, “I would have to go to the end of the line next year and apply as a brand-new program.”
Edens is ticked off at HUD for creating the tiered system instead of an across-the-board percentage cut, “where everybody shares the pain, which people could have done without weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
She is also upset that Chicago prioritized its funding toward Shelter Plus Care programs or permanent housing – but not transitional housing (TH) or supportive services only (SSO) programs.
She acknowledges the HUD ideal of providing “housing first,” so that an individual can be centered and then work on issues that led to homelessness.
Yet the reality, she said, is that permanent housing has not kept pace with the need — or with poverty. There are still people turned out of their homes by abusive boyfriends at 3 a.m. or by landlords late at night. They still need shelters as a safety net, a place for triage, said Edens, who started with the city in 1976 as a mobile crisis intervention worker.
Instead, almost 400 beds of shelter that serve 3,000 people annually are being squeezed – “like a water balloon” — so that funding can go toward permanent housing. She estimated the shortfall at $3.6 million by sending her copy around at a meeting and asking participants to check off their programs.
“You can open a shelter in a fairly quick period of time, but you cannot build housing that quickly,” Edens said. “I was workforce development commissioner when the 10-year plan came out. When asked to comment on it I said, ‘Do you understand that you are going to have to fund both systems until the rapid rehousing concept is up and running?’ The response was, ‘That’s not going to happen.’
“The number of people served by transitional housing – 3000 – is no longer a priority because we are funding all permanent housing in line with the lofty goal of Plan 2.0,” she continued. “I said to them at the meeting, ‘The emperor has no clothes. You don’t have the money to support this.’
“You end homelessness by simply putting people in housing? Isn’t that sweet?” she continued.
“People become homeless for a variety of reasons that need to be addressed along with finding housing that is affordable. They have made strides with permanent supportive housing, but when these shelters close, where are all these people going to go? Give me the address of all the permanent housing that was created so I can give it to them.”
The journey for a homeless person starts by calling 311 to be picked up, said Sue, a social service provider of 14 years in an organization that has a grant in Tier 2. The person will likely go to DFSS at 10 S. Kedzie and be referred to a shelter, which is now known as “emergency housing.” At the shelter they are supposed to be connected to supportive services such as mental health or substance abuse counseling that can get them into permanent housing.
HUD funds transitional housing or “interim housing,” as it is called in Chicago, but not emergency shelter (ES) beds, Molnar said. Chicago has 1,326 units of this housing. ES beds are funded by the Chicago DFSS and private sources.
One problem is that being an older city, Chicago has older buildings that need rehabbing, so more funding is needed. Most money now comes from the federal government; advocates would like to see more from the state of Illinois, Sue said.
“The cog in the wheel is that there is not enough affordable housing,” Sue said. “Another issue is that a lot of people who move into permanent housing stay, so in a sense it is becoming more and more like CHA [Chicago Housing Authority]. Those units are filled. We don’t have a new unit and there’s not enough movement out to put new people in.”
“The funding from HUD sounds like a great deal but more is needed to meet the need,” Molnar said in an email.
“Too many people who are eligible for Permanent Housing end up on waiting lists because there are not enough units for them to move into and too many people stay in it because they can’t afford to move out even if they are more stable and only need a rent subsidy to remain housed,” she added. “In general Chicago needs more affordable housing (not just for people who are homeless but for people who have low incomes so they don’t become homeless) and more employment opportunities that pay a living wage.”
The problem with trying to transition people out of permanent supportive housing is “most of the time they’re stable because they’re in supportive housing getting services,” said Melanie Anewishki, executive director of Featherfist, whose offices are on the South Side but whose clients come from 33 wards.
“Some people can be in permanent supportive housing for two, three, four years, taking meds,” Anewishki said. “But there’s this notion you hear that ‘more people need to graduate and move out and make room for other people who need that kind of housing,’ as opposed to ‘people need permanent supportive housing and some will need it for a lifetime, they will never graduate out.’
“Most important is the P word: poverty,” she added. “It’s housing, housing, housing. Yes, but people need jobs. They need a livable wage. There’s no reason why an individual should have to work two or three jobs to maintain housing for them and their families.”
Chicago’s Plan 2.0, introduced to the public by Mayor Rahm Emanuel last August 23, acknowledges that 23 percent of the city’s population (600,000) lived below the federal poverty line in 2010. When the CHA opened its waiting list for federally subsidized housing in 2008, there were 232,200 applicants for only 40,000 slots.
Plan 2.0 also notes that under the previous plan, Chicago nearly doubled its stock of permanent supportive housing: from 3,304 to 6,472 units.
Permanent housing is an abode with on-site services such as substance abuse or mental health counseling or job training. Its average cost is fair market rent (or a little less) multiplied times 12, with an average of $6,000 to $8,000 annually for services for single adults or $13,000 to $15,000 for families, wrote Betsy Benito, director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing Illinois office in an email.
Even with empty foreclosed properties, “you still need money to rehab and then have operating money (subsidies) to make it affordable,” Benito said. “Banks are still risk-averse with rehab money/loans to entities or people. That said, with all foreclosure/revitalization programs there are entities who are creating supportive housing units.”
During its previous Plan to End Homelessness, Chicago won $26 million in additional housing over a six-year period. The city also advocated with the state to provide rental assistance to 2,500 “rent-burdened” households across Illinois.
Permanent housing may be sorely needed, but Chicago can’t solve the problem by putting its entire $49 million yearly allocation toward bricks and mortar.
“The CHA did that in the past and it didn’t work out so well,” Edens said. “When people fall into homelessness, the majority did not lose housing because they lost their job but rather for complex issues. For some it was the effects of extreme poverty or mental health issues, or substance abuse issues or for many youth, physical abuse issues. Housing in and of itself does not address the complex factors that allow individuals to be stable.”
“You have to get these people ready for housing,” said the Rev. Sanja Rickette, executive director of Matthew House, 3722-28 S. Indiana Ave., which has two Tier 1 programs and one in Tier 2. “If you are a landlord and I come to you and say, ‘I have a young man I am taking off the street.’ Would you do it without knowing if he can live alone or manage a home?”
Most landlords will not be so obliging to people living on the streets or in abandoned buildings as her clients do, Rickette said.
“Transitional housing (TH) programs and Supportive Services Only (SSO) are the incubators where these men go in the daytime so they can pull things together. They can see a case manager, have two decent meals, access a doctor, a shower, get clean clothes, get out of inclement weather whether it’s hot or cold, go to a computer training center without going to the library and paying 10 cents a copy,” she said. They may also get substance abuse treatment or job training, apply for a state ID and use Matthew House as a mailing address.
Matthew House, which has been in existence 21 years, is the only supportive service provider on the South Side that is non-gender specific: it takes men, women and children, families that seek help, Rickette said. Its threatened SSO in Tier 2 serves 65 to 70 people, many of whom have been put out of mental health facilities that were closed. They are all African-American, 80 percent male, and single.
“They are coming to the SSO with a lot of challenges,” Rickette said. “We do what we can to help those individuals feel comfortable and appreciated as a person regardless of their disabilities.”
Matthew House has Tier 1 funding of $224,000 for a chronic homeless program (people who have had four episodes of homelessness in the past year) and $208,717 for a supportive housing program for people with a disability.
“The goal is not to close the program,” Rickette said of the Tier 2 SSO line item.”
In addition, 40 percent of its staff are formerly homeless trained by Matthew House as front desk managers and case managers and employed there up to 12 to 13 years. “We trained them to be viable citizens. Their jobs are in jeopardy, which may cause them to be homeless again.
“I think we need to really sit down and think about what we are doing,’ Rickette said. “Are we really helping the system or are we destroying the system? When you close viable nonprofit organizations on the South, West and East Sides, at the end of the day you hurt the people they serve.”
By Suzanne Hanney