[Hpn] Chicago homeless shelters nearly at capacity

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 09 Oct 2001 10:51:12 -0800


http://www.suntimes.com:80/output/news/cst-nws-home09.html

Chicago SUN-TIMES
October 9, 2001

Homeless shelters nearly at capacity

BY CURTIS LAWRENCE STAFF REPORTER

Chicago's homeless population is swelling to the point that a city-run
community center is being used as a makeshift shelter, and some advocates
say the situation is fast becoming a crisis.

While the actual number of homeless has always been at issue, the city's
approximately 5,600 shelter beds have been filled nearly to capacity for the
last several months.

"This is a national issue, and obviously we've been working on this for a
long time," said Human Services Commissioner Ray Vazquez. "But for the last
two months we've seen a surge of families."

Vazquez said the increase can be attributed to a number of issues, including
people losing some or all of their benefits because of welfare reform, a
shortage in affordable apartments, and a reduction in the number of
landlords willing to participate in the federal rental voucher program
commonly known as Section 8.

Before a couple of months ago, the Department of Human Services community
center at 10 S. Kedzie would see five to 10 families a night before finding
them beds at shelter. In the last two months, that number has jumped to 10
to 15 families, according to human service officials.

Most of the families are headed by single women like Blanca Martinez, who
has three children, two of them with medical problems. She left the
community center for a shelter on Friday after staying there for two days.

Another woman, Tammie McClinton, who has six children, lived at the
community center for two weeks before social workers helped her find
permanent housing.

"My kids had never been in a shelter before," said McClinton, who left a
violent relationship in another city.

"It's not meant to be a shelter," said Les Brown, director of policy for the
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. "I think it's a major crisis in this
city, and something needs to be done."

Vazquez said his department is doing the best it can, but acknowledged that
the center, which has no shower facilities, is not the ideal place for a
family. He said most families don't stay at the center for more than a few
days.

"What's so alarming is that now we're talking about women with children, and
five years ago we were talking about men living on Lower Wacker Drive," said
Brady Harden, president of Inner Voice, a nonprofit which runs 18 shelters
under contract with the city's Human Services Department.

Harden said that of the 621 adults who sought emergency housing at his
shelters between July and September, about one-third were single mothers.

Another 15 percent of his clientele belonged to two-parent families. The
average family seeking housing has three children, officials said.

Of the approximately 1,000 emergency shelter beds under the care of Inner
Voice, 545 are at family shelters that are open around the clock seven days
a week.

Those beds are filled to capacity, Harden said, adding that only four years
ago his agency handled 150 beds for families.

Both Vazquez and housing advocates say there are more working families among
the homeless than ever before. Often, these families can't find an apartment
that they can afford.

"There are a lot of $7-an-hour jobs, but not a lot of $7-an-hour housing
choices," Brown said.

In the past, social service workers could refer the homeless to the Chicago
Housing Authority or Section 8 voucher waiting lists. But the CHA waiting
list already contains more than 33,000 families, and the Section 8 waiting
list has more than 22,000 names on it.

Vazquez said that so far, fewer than 1 percent of people coming to shelters
come from the CHA, which is demolishing its high rises.

"But we know that with the [CHA] transformation, that's another venue for
people to become homeless," Vazquez said.

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