Homeless shelters around the state are facing increased demand, according to a new report from Housing Action Illinois, and calls for homelessness prevention assistance are up sharply, new figures from the Chicago Community Trust show.
The figures add to evidence cited recently by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities that homelessness is rising nationally. And they make the case for more housing spending in the recovery package now being considered by Congress, said Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois.
“Our numbers are incredibly high,” said Mike Wasserberg of South Suburban PADS. A year ago the group’s shelters were serving an average of 140 men, women, and children each night; now the figure is regularly reaching 200.
Sites that were sheltering 25 people a night are now getting 40 or 45, he said.
They’re seeing many more families with children who don’t have housing, he said. He cited rising foreclosures and unemployment along with “jobs that don’t provide enough income.”
And where before two or three families might be living together due to economic circumstances — a situation that advocates argue should be counted as homelessness — “now we’re seeing four or five families inhabiting a single residential unit,” Wasserberg said. “Under those kinds of stress…at a certain point it becomes time to depart.”
Increased demand means the group needs more supplies and volunteers. And it comes at a time when individual donors are also struggling, he said. “Our annual appeal was off by almost 30 percent.”
At the San Jose Obrero Mission in Pilsen, Israel Vargas says clients are having a harder time finding employment. He sees people leaving for other cities in hopes of finding work — as well as people arriving from other cities where job searches were unavailing.
Along with interim housing with the goal of getting men jobs and housing, the mission serves as an emergency shelter when temperatures go below freezing. And the winter has been harsh. “The weather has been a major factor,” Vargas said.
A summary of the economy recovery proposal released by the House Appropriations Committee last week (pdf) includes $1.5 billion for homelessness prevention assistance — three-fourths the amount requested by housing advocates — but no additional funds for Housing Choice Vouchers.
Housing Action Illinois and other advocates are calling for 200,000 new vouchers in order to help people stay in their homes in the growing recession. New vouchers “are really needed to create more stable housing options for vulnerable households,” Palmer said.
At the state level, housing advocates are hoping Illinois will pass a budget and replace recent funding fixes with more sustainable solutions. The state’s emergency food and shelter fund was reduced in last year’s budget crisis.
The homeless prevention fund, which provides families with short-term help with rent and utilities, has remained steady at $11 million a year. But in 2006 its funding was shifted from the state’s general revenue fund to a portion of the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund — a net loss for housing resources. And since the trust fund gets money from the real estate transfer fee, and home sales are down dramatically, this year funding from other human services was diverted to homelessness prevention.
According to the Chicago Community Trust’s Metro Chicago Vital Signs report, calls for homelessness prevention assistance in the Chicago area were 50 percent higher last month than in December 2007.
With homelessness growing, “Illinois needs to find a way to pass a fiscal year 2010 budget that provides an adequate safety net for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness,” Palmer said.