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Homeless in DuPage

Bridge Builders is a group of DuPage County residents who work with homeless families and children in Bridge Communities transitional housing, providing mentoring and activities.  Last week they announced they’d awarded $1,000 college scholarships to eight formerly homeless teens.  (Newstips has covered a school curriculum on homelessness developed by the Bridge, as well as a community sleepout to highlight homelessness in the western suburbs.)

Tonight they’re holding their annual fundraiser for Bridge Communities — there’s no admission, but a donation is requested; there’s a silent auction and cash bar along with food, music, and dancing.  It runs from 7:30 p.m. to midnight at College of DuPage’s McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Bvd, Glen Ellyn.

Latinos and police in DuPage County

Latino residents of DuPage County will share their stories of police abuse at a community forum this Saturday in Glendale Heights.

“We get calls every day from residents who have problems with police,” said Cristobal Cavazos of Immigrant Solidary DuPage, which is sponsoring the forum. He said that while well-established Latino communities in central DuPage cities are growing, there are still few Latino or Spanish-speaking police officers there.

An evening drive down North Avenue in Carol Stream or Lake Street in Addison or Hanover Park will often reveal Latino families whose cars have been pulled over, Cavazos said, and many times vehicles are followed while officers run computer checks to determine the ethnicity of their drivers. One recent caller reported being pulled over and warned that his vehicle sticker was expiring in a month, he said.

“The real issue is racial profiling,” said Cavazos. “I believe a lot of it is xenophobia.” Distrust and fear of police among Latinos is growing as a result, he said.

The community forum on Saturday will provide legal advice on dealing with police during traffic stops and begin the process of developing a community plan to reduce abuse.

Guests at the forum will include Rita Gonzalez, the only Latino member of the DuPage County Board; Terry Pastika of the Citizen Advocacy Center in Elmhurst; Linda Coronado of the DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform and Healther Benno from the National Center for Immigrant Justice in Chicago. It takes place Saturday, May 16 from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Glenside Public Library, 25 E. Fullerton, Glendale Heights.

One of several new immigrants rights groups in Chicago area suburbs, Immigration Solidarity DuPage was founded to promote national immigration reform as well as equality and social justice for immigrants in DuPage County. Many complaints the group receives deal with workplace issues, particularly wage theft, Cavazos said.

DuPage Health Net Grows

While efforts to expand access to health care are stymied in Washington and Springfield — and Cook County’s public health system is closing clinics and losing doctors — a successful collaboration of public and private agencies in DuPage County is expanding into a comprehensive safety net for the growing numbers of uninsured people there.

After six years of coordinating efforts by public agencies, health care providers and human service groups to provide care to the uninsured, Access DuPage is coming under the umbrella of the newly-formed DuPage Health Coalition as part of a five-year plan to build “a robust and sustainable health safety net in DuPage County.”

Access DuPage serves 10,000 uninsured residents a year, connecting them with their own primary-care physicians or clinics — who contract to donate their services for a certain number of patients — and coordinating with hospitals that provide diagnostic, specialty, and hospital services as charity care. The program also pays for prescription medications.

Patients pay small copays for office visits and drugs, but 98 percent of costs are donated, said Candace King, executive director of the DuPage Federation on Human Services Reform. Doctors and hospitals donate about $24 million worth of services a year, she said.

With the county’s low-income population growing dramatically — King said DuPage is now home to 130,000 low-income people — County Board chairman Robert Schillerstrom convened a healthcare summit with hospital executives and other leaders in January to address the needs of the uninsured. An task force growing out of the summit developed the DuPage County Health Safety Net 2012 Plan, which was adopted in May.

Under the plan, Access DuPage will continue as program of the DuPage Health Coalition, while the larger organization handles broader planning and aims to enroll every individual who is eligible for Medicaid or uninsured and living in a household with income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Expanded support will be sought from hospitals, physician practices, health insurers, and public and human service agencies using a “mosaic approach.” One principle of the plan is that an effective safety net actually saves money by maintaining people’s health; another is that the cost of uncompensated care by borne by participating organizations on a “fair share” basis.

A key element of the plan is expanding two existing community health centers operated by Access Community Health Network, which currently handle about 25,000 visits a year, and opening two or three more under ACHN’s aegis. The nonprofit operates federally-subsidized centers around the Chicago area.

Also on the agenda is ensuring access to dental and mental health services. Linguistically and culturally appropriate services for the county’s growing immigrant population is another priority.

With a number of innovative strategies — like ensuring that people leaving DuPage County Jail are connected with the medical and mental health services they need — the coalition aims to establish a model for others to follow in providing a full continuum of health care to low-income people.

For more: Richard Endress, DuPage Health Coalition, 630-510-8694

Candace M. King, Dupage Federation on Human Services Reform, 630-782-4782

DuPage Peace Protestors Charged

In the latest chapter of a bizarre prosecution which some see as an attack on dissent, the DuPage County State’s Attorney yesterday dropped reckless conduct charges alleging that two local peace protestors threw unidentified objects from a bridge over I-355 — and substituted a disorderly conduct charge alleging that they stood on the bridge and “made a throwing motion in the direction of vehicles” which caused a disturbance of the peace.

On May 6, Jeff Zurawski and Sarah Hartfield placed a 12-foot banner reading “Impeach Bush and Cheney – Liars” along with an upside-down flag on a pedestrian underpass over I-355.

DuPage County sheriff’s deputies arrived, saying they were responding to a call that things were being thrown from the overpass; one became very upset about the content of the signs and the display of the flag and said he would pursue the matter with the state’s attorney’s office, Zurawski said.

Three weeks later he was arrested, held for seven hours, and charged with disorderly conduct. Hartfield turned herself in for booking a few days later. In July two additional charges were added: reckless conduct, for throwing unknown objects on the highway, and unauthorized display of a sign. Both were Class A misdemeanors, each punishable by a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

In response to a motion by defense attorney Shawn Collins to dismiss the charges, prosecutors on Wednesday dropped the reckless conduct and unauthorized display charges but added a second disorderly charge, citing a complaint from motorist Charles Harin alleging that the defendants stood on the overpass and “made a throwing motion in the direction of vehicles.”

The start the jury trial requested by the defendants, previously set for October 15, was postponed; a preliminary hearing on the new disorderly charge will be heard then instead. (The charges are enumerated and discussed, and a timeline of events given, here.)

“This prosecution is a fraud and an attempt to suppress dissent,” said Zurawski. “Out of thousands of people who drove by and saw us, one guy got pissed off at what he saw and wanted to cause us some grief, so he called 911 with a fake story that we were acting like we were throwing things, which we weren’t….

“One of the deputies apparently had personal problems with our message and he wants to punish us and threatens us….

“Then the state’s attorney’s office — could it be they have a problem with the message my friend and I were displaying?”

On the other hand, he said, “what we wanted to do is express our opinion and send a message, and as a result of this case the the subsequent press coverage, our message has gotten out way further and wider than it would have, and we’ve met a whole lot of good people as a result.”

In a letter to DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, the DuPage Peace Through Justice Coalition noted that it had participated in “expressway bannering” numerous times with the assurance of attorneys and police officers that it was legal.

The complaint against Zurawski and Hartfield cites specific actions — staging an antiwar protest and hanging the flag upside-down — “that are clearly protected under the First Amendment,” the group wrote, calling on Birkett to drop all charges against the two.

For more: Kevin Lindemann, DuPage Peace Through Justice Coalition, 630-336-1968

DuPage Sleepout to Help Homeless

Members of two dozen churches are among those joining a Saturday-night sleepout to raise awareness of growing homelessness in DuPage County. They’ll also raise funds for Bridge Communities, a grassroots nonprofit in Glen Ellyn which provides transitional housing and supportive services to homeless families.

Scores of families — including six families on Main Street in Glen Ellyn — will be sleeping out on the night of Saturday, November 13, staying in cardboard boxes, cars, or tents, on church lawns and outside private homes throughout DuPage, according to Jennifer Hodge Jerzyk of Bridge Communities. They are raising money through sponsorships and pledge sheets.

The sleepout “makes it more meaningful and tangible” for participants, said Jerzyk. A rally at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn will kick off the event and “give recognition to Bridge partners and the difference they are making for these families,” she said.

Bridge Communities serves close to 100 homeless families each year, providing transitional housing and services and connecting them with local churches and others who offer mentoring and support as they move to self-sufficiency.

The partners are “the real heart of the program,” said Jerzyk. “They’re the ones who sit down with the families every week at the kitchen table to go over their challenges and help them set goals and stay on track.”

Most of Bridge clients are single mothers with children and many are survivors of domestic violence.

According to the group, the number of homeless people in DuPage County increased 30 percent between 2002 and 2003. The 2000 census showed over 50,000 DuPage households living below the poverty level.

“These are people who are one paycheck or one car repair away from having no place to live,” said Jerzyck. “If you’re a single mother trying to raise children on one low-wage income, the numbers just don’t add up.”

DuPage Group Develops Homelessness Curriculum

Children get to explore the inside of a box — and get an idea of what it’s like to live in a car — in a new interactive educational curriculum on homelessness which is being introduced by Bridge Communities for Affordable Housing Week, March 14 to 20.

The curriculum is already in use in Sunday schools at churches that partner with Bridge, a transitional housing agency in DuPage County, and the group is making it available it to schools and youth agencies.

Adults in faith-based and community groups which partner with Bridge help mentor homeless families moving toward self-sufficiency and living in apartments owned by the agency. Now better-informed and sensitized children can also participate, raising funds, helping with programs, and serving as homework helpers for younger children, said Jennifer Hodge Jerzyk of Bridge.

Jerzyk cited studies finding 40 percent of DuPage County’s homeless are children, and said the county reports serving 2,800 homeless people yearly. Bridge assisted nearly 100 homeless families last year, and in its 15 years has assisted over a thousand individuals “cross the bridge from homelessness to permanent housing,” she said.

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