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No room at the inn

There’s no room at the inn for some of Chicago’s homeless, turned away from overflowing shelters on frigid nights – and some are dying on Chicago’s streets as a result.

On Tuesday, the first day of winter and the longest night of the year, homeless advocates will hold a memorial service for those who died homeless this year.  It takes place at Old St. Pat’s Church, 700 W. Adams, Tuesday, December 21 at 6 p.m.

Shelters are especially full on the coldest nights – such as we’re experiencing right now – and under the current system not all can be sheltered, said Karla Thomas of Old St. Pat’s.

“We want to give [those who have died] a proper memorial service and honor their lives,” she said.

Sponsored by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Ignatian Spirituality Project, the memorial is an opportunity for loved ones to grieve their losses – and to raise awareness of the problems faced by Chicago’s homeless.

“In Chicago, where the abundance of wealth and security is ever-present in the bombardment of media messages to buy, buy, buy, there is another reality: the reality of our brothers and sisters — children of God — losing the struggle for their lives,” said Tom Drexler, executive director of ISP.

The Ignatian Spirituality Project, founded 11 years ago, is a retreat program aimed at ending homelessness by helping people overcome obstacles in their lives and supporting those in recovery.

“I am convinced that there are certain things that only the weakest and most vulnerable among us can teach us about life,” said Wayne Richards, an organizer for CCH who came through the Ignatian Program. (Dawn Turner Trice tells his story in the Tribune.)

It’s hard to compile a comprehensive list of homeless people who have died on the streets because many lack identification, Thomas said, but about 30 individuals who died this year will be honored by name in Tuesday’s service.

CCH has documented homeless people turned away from shelters – even while the city maintains that rates of homelessness were dropping.  In 2005, shelter providers recorded turning away 20,000 people, according to CCH.

The group has argued that Mayor Daley’s ten-year plan to end homeless is flawed; it’s reduced shelter beds available under the guise of shifting to permanent housing without devoting sufficient resources and overstating results.

CCH found that city resources devoted to ending homelessness fall short in comparison to other cities, with Chicago providing one-third the per-capita investment of New York City and one-tenth that of San Francisco.

CCH estimates about 75,000 Chicagoans deal with homeless in the course of a year.

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Category: faith, homeless

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