Chicago Coalition for the Homeless – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Planning lags for homeless students Sun, 19 May 2013 21:56:49 +0000 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.”

Learning from the past?

But although current CPS leaders claim they’ve learned from the failures of past school closings, preparations this year are far behind previous years, said Laurene Heybach, director of the coalition’s law project.

The CCH Law Project represents homeless students under a 2000 court order establishing CPS’s responsiblity to provide them with access to schools.  In 2004 CCH went to court to force CPS to apply the protections in school closings.

Since then CPS has provided CCH with a list of homeless students that would be affected by closings at the time school actions were proposed, generally by January (and by December under the new state facilities law, a deadline Emanuel leaned on the General Assembly to extend this year).

The coalition would do outreach with families, apprise them of their rights to transitional services and transportation, and provide counseling to help them choose the right school for their children, which could be different than the designated receiving school for homeless families.

“It’s a massive amount of information if parents are going to be given a choice,” Heybach said.  “It’s important to have someone help them sort through their options.”

No information

This year CCH has yet to get such a list, Heybach said.  “This year we’re being told we won’t get a list until after the school board votes,” she said.  “We feel like they’re cutting off a community resource.”

They’re also telescoping a process in which families had several months to discuss options and visit schools into a single week.  Families with students in schools approved for closure by the board next Wednesday will have from May 23 to May 31 to select a receiving school.  (Schools will be closed on May 27 for Memorial Day.)

And last week CPS chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett sent a letter to principals saying any school “that has space” will have to accept any student from a closing school who requests admission next week, Raise Your Hand reports.


“There’s still no list of which schools have room,” said Heybach.  “It’s utter chaos.  Everything’s in flux.  They’re making it up as they go.”

Also long before this point in previous years, CPS had provided parents of homeless children with a detailed letter of summer programs to help them transition to new schools.  “All the parent wanted something for the summer,” said Heybach.

This year that information is not available.

“If the [new] school is better, shouldn’t they have some academic support to prepare for it, shouldn’t they have some social support to prepare for the transition?” asked Heybach.  “Why isn’t anyone addressing academic and social supports?

“For any person who cares about improving educational outcomes, this makes no sense,” she said.  “It’s just not what any educational professional, any teacher or social worker, would ever support as a way to organize the most massive school closing in U.S. history.”

Not recommended

That may be why the Broad Foundation recommends an 18-month process for closing schools, with six months of community engagement preceding the announcement of a list of school closures.

Under their recommended schedule, an initial list of closings would have been released in October and finalized in December.  Then transition planning would begin.

Student reassignment, including multiple meetings were families can learn about the reassignment process, would take place over four months, from December to March.  Four months would be allowed for schools to revise their enrollment projections and budgets.

It may also be why Byrd-Bennett’s commission on school closings recommended taking two years for the closings.

As an anonymous commission member told the Sun Times in March, “They don’t have the expertise to accomplish that [closing 50 schools] in such a short timeframe.  When they closed down as many as 12 schools, it was a disaster.”

School closings: what ‘everyone knows’ Fri, 21 Sep 2012 04:09:31 +0000 “Everyone knows schools must be closed in large numbers,” according to a Chicago Sun-Times editorial published Thursday.

The editorial questions the savings involved in school closings and calls on CPS to be “more open and inclusive,” and to release a new facilities master plan required by state law before more closings are announced.

But does “everyone” really know schools must be closed?  At hearings on proposed closings in recent years, there’s been consistent opposition – until paid protestors, later connected to Mayor Emanuel’s political operatives, began showing up.

We asked around, and here are some responses:


Laurene Heybach, Director, The Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless:

The notion that “everyone knows [Chicago public] schools must be closed in large numbers” is a remarkably un-researched assertion. As a member of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, I can say unequivocally that such is not the case. And CPS has never been able to make such a case.

Parents want quality neighborhood schools, not experiments (charters) which drain resources from their neighborhood school and don’t deliver. We hear this again and again, and parents are getting increasingly frustrated with a city that can help decorate the Willis Tower but tells neighborhood schools “no” for every request, from a math teacher to a working heating system to an air conditioner. Indeed, one parent spoke directly to the CPS representative on our task force to say precisely that: the Board of Education’s answer to just about anything our parents want is “no.”

It’s top-down and political people who push closures.  This is why we need to return facility planning to our communities and stakeholders — parents, teachers, students and principals — and take it out of the hands of politicians.


J. Brian Malone, Executive Director, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization:

Everyone knows there has been population loss on the South and West Sides of the city. The issue with underutilization, at this stage, is largely the result of CPS cramming charter and contract schools down the throats of communities of color, while also:

(1) raiding the coffers to fund these schools that do very little (if anything) to improve educational outcomes, but do a great deal to create wealth for the private operators and investors; and

(2) siphoning the human capital, material, and financial resources from neighborhood schools, which make them look unattractive when compared to the “new” school with the great marketing budget.

Disinvesting in neighborhood schools has done more to reduce the appeal, and by default the enrollment, of neighborhood schools, creating this manufactured need to close schools, which was orchestrated by the Renaissance 2010 plan and continued forward.

As the district gets out of the business of educating African American and Latino students, they are increasing their stock in brokering the education of our children to private operators who are seemingly more concerned with improving the value of their portfolio.

This misguided effort to continue to subsidize charter and contract schools (since 2004, only 18 percent of which are top-performing, and half of those are selective enrollment) at the expense of neighborhood schools, is the reason for this contrived budget crisis.

There needs to be a moratorium on both school closings and charter/contract schools, and greater investment in community-driven school transformation models.


Julie Woestehoff, Executive Director, Parents United for Responsible Education:

I think Wendy Katten summed it up yesterday when she raised the question of why CPS needs to plow another $76 million into opening new charter schools when we supposedly have so many under-enrolled schools.

I would add to that the fact that despite the enormous financial investment CPS has put into charter schools, they have only managed to perform about as well as existing traditional schools.

Some have been saying that charter schools are the school system’s parking meter deal.


Sonia Kwon, Raise Your Hand Coalition:

The main question is why are they opening 60 new charters if there is such underutilization of CPS schools?

And what is the plan for the extreme over-utilization of some schools? Neighborhood schools are really the only public schools that have no class size controls. Magnets, selective enrollment and charters can limit enrollment and cap class sizes, but neighborhood schools cannot. So once again there is undue burden on neighborhood schools.


Valerie F. Leonard, Lawndale Alliance:

There is considerable pressure on the legislature to provide equal funding for charters as for neighborhood schools. In fact, schools that receive funding from the Gates Foundation already receive equal funding from CPS.  That being the case, will CPS really save money by closing neighborhood schools and opening charters?

Will CPS tie the expansion of charters to past performance? After all, the reformers are demanding that teacher evaluations, principal tenure and the very existence of the schools be tied to student performance.  Are they willing to be held to the same standards they impose on others?  All too often, failing or mediocre charters are given license to expand, while similarly performing, or even better performing neighborhood schools are closed.

The long and short of it is, I think CPS is using the strike and unionized teachers as the scapegoat for decisions that have already been made. The schools would have been closed regardless of whether or not the teachers had a strike. Schools have been closing at an accelerated pace since the inception of Renaissance 2010, and there were no strikes during those years.


Dwayne Truss, Progressive Action Coalition for Education:

Tim Cawley [who the editorial quotes saying “to generate real savings, we must close those buildings for good”] has had his sights on closing neighborhood schools since late Summer of 2011.  I was in attendance at a Chicago Education Facilities Task  Force meeting in which Mr. Cawley announced that CPS is looking to “right size” the district.  For me this translated to closing schools.

Prior to the CTU strike the Austin and North Lawndale Community Action Councils were told by CPS that it planned to close schools in both communities.  We knew that any CPS settlement with CTU will be an excuse by the mayor to justify closing schools in order to pay for the teachers’ new contract.

CPS is disingenuous in that it has opened underperforming charter and contract schools in poor communities already struggling with underutilized neighborhood schools.  One of the school actions voted on by the school board this year was to approve renewing the charter for ACT Charter School.

ACT operated a high school.  ACT voluntarily suspended its operations because of poor academic performance and financial challenges.  The board allowed ACT to reopen as a 5-8 middle school.  The school is managed by KIPP, a level 3 performing [i.e., “failing”] charter school operator.  I argued that KIPP will stress the utilization of some of the neighborhood schools because KIPP will blatantly recruit students from Austin neighborhood schools.

[For more, see West Side parents fight ‘education apartheid’; for a similar story, see Does Rogers Park need a new charter school?]

There is no sane or even a fiscal reason to open additional charter schools.  As you may know, CPS has already allocated an additional $76 million to charter schools.

Also please note that Bruce Rauner is a board member of ACT.  He has already failed in operating a charter school.


There was also some e-mail discussion between commenters.  An announcement last month that CPS was seeking brokers to sell off 23 surplus properties, with the goal of raising $15 million for the school district, was brought up.

Then a Greg Hinz column from two years ago was cited, reporting on an idea from Bruce Rauner, the private equity financier, charter school impresario, and confidante of Mayor Emanuel, who’s been prominent recently with attacks on the Chicago Teachers Union.

Rauner was said to be floating a plan to form a private venture capital fund to buy up empty CPS buildings and lease them to charter schools.  In New York City, this has been a profitable enterprise. According to Hinz, Rauner was talking about $200 million in equity, $600 million in debt and 100 CPS buildings.

Two years ago, Rauner wouldn’t talk about the concept with Hinz, saying only that he’s “deeply interested in improving the way we educate our children,” and talking to people to “provoke creative thinking and solutions to the greatest challenge our city faces.”

Rauner was on the panel in June when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs unveiled a new venture philanthropy fund for Chicago schools.  According to the Sun-Times, Rauner told the assembly he had provided $20 million to school reform and 80 percent of it was “wasted.”

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War on Drugs: 40 years of failure? Thu, 16 Jun 2011 20:20:24 +0000 Cook County president Toni Preckwinkle will speak at a rally Friday to “end the war on drugs” – while the White House steps up efforts to defend its drug policies in the face of growing criticism.

A broad coalition of civil rights, health, policy, faith, community and student groups will hold a Rally to End the War on Drugs on Friday, June 17 at noon at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Dearborn.   It’s the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the War on Drugs.

Participants cite the racially discriminatory impact of the nation’s drug policies – they’ve been recently tagged “the new Jim Crow”– and the expense and inefficiency of addressing health disorders through the criminal justice system, while support for treatment lags.

Meanwhile the White House released a report showing that Cook County leads the nation in the proportion of individuals testing positive for drugs following their arrest.  This shows that “drug addiction is too often the root of crime in our communities,” U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske told the Sun Times.

It could be read another way, said Kathleen Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy:  “When treatment isn’t available and you arrest people for drug possession, they are going to test positive.”

“It’s exactly why the war on drugs is failing – because we’re not getting treatment to people,” she said.

Curious timing

The numbers in the White House report are not new or suprising.  Two years ago an ICDP report found that Cook County had the highest proportion of arrestees testing positive for drugs among urban centers.  Kane-Willis said that’s been the case for some time.  ICDP’s report recommended increasing resources for treatment and diverting low-level drug offenders to community programs.

Untreated substance use disorders cost Illinois $4.6 billion a year, including $1.16 billion in costs for the criminal justice system, ICDP estimated.

The timing of the White House report was curious, coming one day before groups across the country mark the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s declaration of war.

On Tuesday in Washington DC, members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition attempted to meet with Kerlikowske to present a report criticizing the Obama administration for failing to follow through on promises to reform drug policy.

LEAP includes police officials, judges, prosecutors, and federal agents who call for legalizing drugs.  Norm Stamper, who like Kerlikowske is a former Seattle chief of police, was part of the delegation Kerlikowske refused to meet.

The report (pdf) notes a stark irony:  “While the Nixon administration’s public messaging carefully stressed punishment, it directed resources primarily toward public health.  Today the Obama administration’s press releases emphasize public health while its funding requests are actually weighted toward punishment.”

Last week a group of world leaders including Kofi Annan released a report calling the war on drugs a failure and advocating new approaches, including legalization and regulation, especially of marijuana, as a way of  denying profits to drug cartels and reducing violence.  The recommendation “was swiftly dismissed by the Obama administration” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Plenty of drugs

Sponsors and participants in Friday’s rally here echo many of the same concerns.

“The war on drugs is not working,” said Tio Hardiman of CeaseFire.  “There are plenty of drugs in the community.  And it definitely has a direct impact on the level of violence.”

“Drugs are easier to get, the level of potency is up, and prices have gone down,” said Kane-Willis.

Under the War on Drugs, the U.S. prison populations have risen from 500,000 to 2.5 million, with no decrease in drug use, said Mike Rodriguez of Enlace.  He said Latinos are increasingly overrepresented in prison populations as a result.

“It’s spawned the growth of a prison industrial complex and pushed the U.S. to become the number one nation in the world in incarcerating its own people, ahead of China, Iran, and North Korea,” said Dr. Calvin Morris of the Community Renewal Society.

“It’s not so much a war on drugs as it is a war on certain communities,” he said.  “We know drug usage is across the board, it’s as much in the suburbs as the city.  But the whole police focus is on poor communities.  We are profiling entire communities….

The New Jim Crow

“It’s the New Jim Crow,” Morris said, citing Michelle Alexander’s book of that title.  By focusing on communities of color, “the war on drugs gives a legal rationale to take away the vote, to refuse employment, to refuse housing” to people who would have faced straightforward racial discrimination 50 years ago.  “It calls into question the American ideal of justice for all.”

ICPD has found that Illinois ranks first in the nation for black-to-white disparities for locking up drug possession offenders.  A recent legislative study (pdf) carried out by the Center for Health and Justice of TASC, another sponsor of Friday’s rally, found that African Americans here are eight times as likely as whites to be sentenced to prison in cases where the only charge is drug possession.

More than half of those entering prison on drug offenses have been convicted of low-level possession offenses, according to ICDP.  The legislative report found that Cook County courts are being “inundated” with low-level drug charges.

“It’s a very expensive and inefficient approach,” said Kane-Willis.  “It’s a lot cheaper to provide prevention and treatment” than to address problems through emergency rooms, the court system, and prisons.  But it can be very difficult to get into treatment, she said – and Illinois cut treatment funding in its most recent budget.

Politicians who are afraid of being “soft on crime” need to be “smart on crime,” she said.  “Treating substance use disorder through the criminal justice system is not being smart on crime.”

“There is no justice in the war on drugs,” said Morris.  “It is devastating communities.”

Groups coming together tomorrow are aiming at creating a larger, on-going coalition to push for reforms, said Nancy Michaels of the Mansfield Institute for Social Justice at Roosevelt University.

Several students from local chapters of Students for Sensible Drug Policies will also be speaking Friday.

Other sponsors include the AIDS Foundation, New Day Network, Protestants for the Common Good, Chicago Justice Project, John Howard Association, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and more than thirty churches.

Homeless youth to present art Sat, 26 Jan 2008 16:13:38 +0000 Visual and performance art by homeless and formerly homeless youth will be presented in an arts showcase Monday at the Center on Halsted.

It’s the third arts event staged by a group of activist youth facilitated by staff from the Night Ministry and Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Performances will include theatrical sketches and tribal drumming; visual art will include photos by teens working with Picture This.  Young people from the Center on Halsted, the Broadway Youth Center, Open Door Shelter, Chicago House, Neon Street, Teen Living Program, and Project Onward, were among those reponding to a call for participating, said Beth Cunningham of CCH.

The showcase runs from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, January, 28 at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted.

State’s Attorney candidates forum on reentry Mon, 07 Jan 2008 22:54:52 +0000 All the candidates for Cook County State’s Attorney have confirmed their attendance at a candidates’ forum Thursday, sponsored by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Developing Justice Coalition this Thursday and focusing on reentry after prison, sentencing reform and public safety.

Candidates will be questioned by a panel including CCH leader Gloria Evans, who was formerly incarcerated and formerly homeless, Anita Caballero of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, Deborah Harrington of the Woods Fund and others.

Forum sponsors will be seeking a commitment from candidates to work to find funding to expand the State’s Attorney’s drug schools program, which diverts non-violent first-time offenders and clears their records when they are done, said Jim Fields of CCH.  “When you have a record it is so hard to reintegrate to society,” he said.

Other questions will address overcrowding at Cook County Jail as well as alternative sentencing programs for the fast-growing prison population of women with children, Fields said.

The forum takes place Thursday, January 10 6 p.m. at the First Congregational Baptist Church, 1613 W. Washington.