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Planning lags for homeless students

Homeless students are more than twice as likely than others to be impacted by Mayor Emanuel’s school closings, according to an analysis by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

And if plans for transitioning homeless students are any indication, CPS preparations for school closings are far behind where they’ve been at this point in previous years — and far behind where they need to be.

The 3,900 homeless students who would be impacted if the school board approves all proposed mergers, turnarounds and co-locations represent 8.5 percent of impacted students — more than twice the share of homeless students citywide, which CPS reports as 4 percent, according to CCH.

The 1,400 homeless  students displaced from closing schools represents an even higher proportion — 8.7 percent of students subject to displacement.

CCH’s Law Project has assisted homeless students impacted by school closures since 2004, and “CPS has never demonstrated its ability to successfully serve students transitioning to new schools,” said Patricia Nix-Hodes, the coalition’s associate legal director. “We have seen students lost in the process as well as students at risk of increased violence.

“Even on a much smaller scale, receiving schools have not been adequately prepared,” Nix-Hodes said.  “Students have arrived to new schools without enough desks, books or staff. School records have failed to arrive in a timely manner. Adequate transportation has not been provided to get students to the new school.

“It is inconceivable that CPS will be able to provide all impacted with better school choices and meaningful transition and transportation services, especially with the final announcements taking place so late in the school year.”

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Cappleman protest called

An ad-hoc group of activists will protest — and offer free soup — outside 46th Ward Alderman James Cappleman’s office on Wednesday, March 6 (5 p.m., 4544 N. Broadway), while two community organizations have invited the controversial alderman to a town hall on March 21 to discuss affordable housing and other issues.

Food Not Bombs will be providing soup for anyone who’s hungry outside Cappleman’s office on Wednesday.

Cappleman has been getting plenty of attention lately from Mark Brown and DNAinfo for his attempts to ban low-rent cubicle hotels, kick the Salvation Army soup truck out of his ward, and most recently, make it a crime to be in a bus stop if you’re not waiting for a bus.

On top of it, with a wave of developers  gobbling up affordable rentals across the north lakefront, Capplemen has shown no interest in preserving housing options for his low-income constituents — in some cases, critics say, almost certainly adding to the number of homeless.

Repeatedly citing his background as a social worker, Cappleman has claimed sympathy with the poor and sad he wants more effective delivery of services.

But “it’s not enough to say there should be grants, there should be programs,” said Thomas Weisgard, an Occupy activist and organizer of Wednesday’s protest.  “Here there are hundreds and hundreds of people who now have a place to live, who have a place to get food, and he’s shutting them down.

“It’s winter, it’s Chicago, we’re getting ten inches of snow, and he’s putting people out in the street.”

‘Classic Cappleman’

“It’s classic Cappleman stuff,” said Fran Tobin of Northside Action for Justice.  “He says he’s looking out for poor people by not feeding them — providing them with food makes them dependent.  It’s what he’s been saying for years.”

“We’re seeing a pattern where [Cappleman’s] actions don’t jibe with his words,” said Erin Ryan, president of the board of Lakeview Action Coalition.

A social worker who works with homeless people, Ryan said Cappleman’s assertion that feeding people is a “disincentive” to getting them “sustained help” is “perplexing” and “just not in line with best practices.”

LAC and Organization of the Northeast have invited Cappleman to a community meeting on March 21 on the subject, “Who Is Welcome in the 46th Ward?”

“We want to lay out how we’d like to work together on these issues and give [Cappleman] an opportunity to speak publicly about whether he wants to work with us,” said Jennifer Ritter, LAC’s executive director.

As reported here last month, Cappleman is among the alderman that LAC has called on to help preserve SRO housing where residents are threatened with eviction.  Attention in his ward has focused on the Hotel Chateau, 3838 N. Broadway, where 30-day notices of lease termination are coming due.

Hands off

Cappleman has declined to use his influence to press developers to maintain affordability, or even to make a public statement in favor of preserving affordability, organizers say.  Residents say he’s referred them to agencies that provide homeless services.

“There’s not a lot of room in the homeless system,” said Ryan, who’s executive director of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.  “You’re taking people who are living independently” — and in many cases accessing social services near where they live — “and putting them in shelters….It’s going to be difficult to get them back in permanent housing.”

She adds: “No one is better off in a shelter.”

Ryan points out that while the city is united behind an amibitous plan to end homelessness — which calls for preserving and expanding affordable housing — Cappleman is “working against that plan, and working to displace people and make them homeless.”

In Uptown and Rogers Park, ONE has been focused on a developer who’s bought up seven buildings with 800 units of affordable studio apartments with plans to make them upscale.  ONE has been calling for a portion of the units to be preserved as affordable.

Cappleman has refused to discuss the matter with the community organization, taking the remarkable position that an alderman has no influence over a developer in his ward, said interim director Angie Lobo.  She said it’s clear that in fact Cappleman is working with the developer.

Safety net

“These buildings provide an important safety-net level of very affordable housing,  and if they are lost, many of their resident will become homeless,” said Ryan.  “We can’t afford to lose them.

“There’s no question they should be well-managed and safe, but we think there is a way to keep the buildings affordable and make them assets to the community,” she said.

LAC has succeeded in preserving a number of SROs as updated, low-income housing, most recently bringing in a nonprofit developer for the Diplomat Hotel, 3208 N. Sheffield, where Thresholds now operates the building and provides services on site.

In that case Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) took a clear public position that he wanted the building’s affordability preserved, and he worked with LAC and city agencies to make that happen.  “An alderman’s support can be tremendously helpful,” said Ryan.

“We’re trying to work with the developers and the alderman, but there are so many backroom deals, and we have not been welcome at the table,” she said.

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.

Teen mothers create mosaics

Teen mothers, many of them homeless, tell their stories through artwork in an exhibition at DalTile Tile and Stone Gallery, 316 W. Hubbard, from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 13.

Students at Simpson Academy for Young Women, a CPS school for pregnant and parenting girls, and residents of the Night Ministries youth shelters created intricately detailed, life-size silhouettes with mosaic collages of mixed media that express tell each individual’s story and explore her strengths, hopes and struggles.

They worked with Real Eyes Moms, a collaboration of the Alternatives, Inc., the Night Ministry, and the Green Star Movement, a group which works with young people in schools and community centers on murals that celebrate diversity and foster teamwork and creativity.

Inspiration Corp. plans new cafe

At a time when many agencies for the homeless are struggling, Inspiration Corporation is planning a major expansion.

The agency is on track to open a second social-enterprise restaurant and job training center in Garfield Park next year, funded by a capital drive which is nearing its goal, said Diane Pascal.

Garfield Park Cafe, at 3504-18 W. Lake, will be modeled after Cafe Too, 4715 N. Sheridan, a neighborhood restaurant which provides job training and transitional employment in food service for low-income and homeless residents.

In addition to providing nutritious, affordable family restaurant meals to the general public, the new cafe will offer “guest certificates” for free meals, distributed through local agencies, schools, and churches to supplement family budgets or to encourage participation and achievement.  The group also plans to expand into catering at the new location.

Along with Cafe Too, Inspiration Corporation runs the Inspiration Cafe in Uptown and the Living Room Cafe in Woodlawn, where low-income residents can get free meals in a restaurant-style setting as well as access to a range of supportive services.  Services run from subsidized housing to open case management to free voice mail.

This week Inspiration Corporation announced a $300 thousand challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation, which will require raising an additional $500 thousand.  That would complete the organization’s $6 million capital campaign, launched in February of 2009.

While funds are going mainly to the Garfield Park Cafe – including full and clear ownership of the building that will house the restaurant, the group’s first real asset – the campaign includes a $650,000 sustainability fund to provide financial stability and reduce debt service expenses, Pascal said.

Despite the economic downturn, the group decided to focus its fundraising on the capital effort last year, she said.  She attributed the group’s success in part to the leadership and energy of its charismatic (and unpaid) founder, Lisa Nigro.  A former police officer, Nigro began offering sandwiches and coffee to Uptown’s homeless from her nephew’s red wagon 1989.  After moving to a van and then a bus, a local landlord offered here a one-dollar lease on a Wilson Avenue storefront, where Inspiration Cafe was opened.

State cuts will increase homelessness

Homeless service providers are struggling to keep their doors open, and 1,300 people seeking shelter were turned away during January 2010 due to state budget cuts, according to a new survey by four groups working to end homelessness.

Failure to pass comprehensive tax reform will mean more families losing their homes, according to the study.

State funding for homeless programs has been reduced by over $10 million a year, or about 23 percent, and agencies dedicated to homeless prevention and providing emergency shelter, transitional housing, homeless youth housing, and permanent supportive housing are borrowing heavily to offset delays in state funds.

Ed Shurna of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless welcomed Governor Quinn’s commitment to  raise revenue but said Quinn’s proposal to raise the income tax by 1 percent is “totally inadeqaute” and “an invitation to put off real solutions yet again.”

Along with CCH, the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, Housing Action Illinois, and the Supportive Housing Providers Association – all members of the Responsible Budget Coalition — helped prepare the survey.

New funds to prevent homelessness

A huge gap in homelessness prevention funding was finally closed last month when the Emergency Fund received the first installment of $23 million in federal stimulus funds.

The funds are available to Chicago residents facing a temporary financial crisis for help with rent, utilities, moving costs and storage fees.

It’s the first public funding for homelessness prevention available here in  six months.  After the federal funding was announced last year, the state reduced its $11 million homelessness prevention program by 78 percent, said Kathleen Molnar of the Emergency Fund.

“It was just shortsighted,” said Julie Dworkin of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which has pushed for increased funding for the state program, established in 1999.  “It’s such a critical program and the need for it is really growing.”

With budgetary delays, the state’s reduced funding wasn’t available until early last month – about the time the federal funds started arriving, Molnar said.

Families and individuals facing temporary shortfalls can see if they qualify for assistance by calling 311 and asking for short-term help.

The federal funding stream is available for the next three years, but Molnar thinks it may be used up before then.  “There’s a growing demand for housing assistance, and job creation isn’t really picking up,” she said.

In addition to funds from public sources, the Emergency Fund also distributes flexible funds, which come from donations from individuals and support from foundations and corporations.

Those are available in smaller amounts but for a much wider range of basic needs –a bus pass, an eye exam, a work uniform, a bed, a refrigerator – anything needed to help someone become or remain self-sufficient.

Last year the Emergency Fund assisted some 5,500 people, Molnar said. She said calls for assistance dropped after word got out that funding wasn’t available – but since January, the number of calls is up significantly.

According to CCH, Governor Quinn’s budget proposal maintains state homeless prevention funding at its reduced level and cuts funding for homeless youth services.

[This version corrects errors in an earlier posting.]

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.

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