[Hpn] City short beds for homeless families

William Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 2 Nov 2001 14:43:11 -0500


From: William Tinker

 We have warned the world and our government that we must care for our own
citizens before we over extend our selves and more die from being
unsheltered.
 A Brother In The Struggle
 Bill

 --------------------
 City short beds for homeless families
 --------------------

 By Shia Kapos
 Tribune staff reporter

 November 2, 2001

 Chicago homeless advocates and the city's Department of Human Services say
the shortage of beds for homeless families is so acute, families are being
sent to commercial hotels and aid centers usually used only for daytime.

 The department says it has about 700 beds to accommodate homeless families
in Chicago but needs 900 because the number of homeless families has
increased so much in recent months. The situation has been exacerbated by
welfare regulations that make it harder for those who have received
assistance to get back on the welfare rolls.

 "Until early June, we would see five homeless families a night. Now, we see
10 to 15 each night," said Lisa Elkuss, spokeswoman for Human Services
Department.

 So far, the city has been allowing families to sleep in a few designated
hotels and a department facility intended only for daytime use. City
officials say they are working on a long-term plan to keep families in their
homes.

 Many of the 250 homeless families the city is currently housing have never
been homeless before.

 "I come from a well-off family . . . I never thought I'd be here," said
Shannon Martinez, who has been living with her two children at St. Francis
De Paula Shelter for weeks. Her husband, Joseph, is staying with his
brother, trying to save enough money working for the Postal Service to get
an apartment in December.

 He had been earning a decent living as a manager of a pizza company before
he got laid off. The Martinezes had a three-bedroom apartment in Bridgeport.
"We lived there for eight years," Shannon Martinez said"It was nice. There
was even a pool in the back yard."

 When Joseph Martinez lost his job, the family put their belongings in
storage. They feel lucky to be at St. Francis. "It took us a few weeks to
get here," Shannon Martinez said.

 Homeless advocates say there are many stories like the Martinezes.

 "We are seeing more homeless families. Especially female-headed
households," said Abdullah Hassan, executive director of Inner Voice, which
helps the city find available space for people who need shelter.

 A big reason for the increase in homeless families is the collision of a
sagging economy with welfare reform.

 "The Welfare Act of 1996 was designed to move people from welfare to jobs.
Once they got jobs, they lost public assistance," explained Arloa Sutter,
executive director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries, which runs two Chicago
shelters.

 Previous recipients of welfare who got jobs and then lost them find it
difficult to qualify for assistance again under the revised regulations, she
said.

 And, there is a lack of affordable housing, said Hassan, pointing to the
recent demolition of CHA public-housing units. "Even with the affordable
housing that the city is pursuing, it may take two to three years before a
project is realized," he said.

 City officials say they are working to get local and federal funding for
more beds.

 "In the long-term, we want to prevent families from having to enter the
shelter system," said Human Services Commissioner Ray Vazquez.

 He said the city is working to find strategies to keep families from being
separated in shelters. "It's important to keep a family intact."

 Until a plan is developed, no one will be turned away from shelter, Vazquez
said.

 "Right now, they're not ideal accommodations," Elkuss said. "but we're
confident that we'll have some good solutions."


 Copyright (c) 2001, Chicago Tribune