As temperatures hovered in the single digits this week with wind chills below zero, officials urged Chicagoans to be cautious when going outside. But for thousands of people experiencing homelessness, sometimes being outside is the only option.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is hoping to reduce the number of people living on the streets with a $60 million grant announced Thursday for Chicago, part of $315 million in federal funding to 46 communities across the U.S. to fight homelessness.
HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge made the announcement at Brainerd Park Apartments on the city’s Far South Side at an event with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Department of Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara and Chicago Housing Authority CEO Tracey Scott. Chicago Continuum of Care, a collective of more than 100 organizations and individuals working to end homelessness in the city, will be in charge of directing the funds.
“A nation that cannot take people off the streets has failed,” Fudge said. “We know that (this money) is going to make a difference.”
Brainerd Park Apartments, in the Washington Heights neighborhood, opened in 2018 and reserves 25% of its units for families exiting homelessness, according to Joshua Wilmoth, executive director of Full Circle Communities, the nonprofit that owns the apartments. Those families are further supported by the complex’s partner, Christian Community Health Center, which is part of Chicago Continuum of Care.
The grant money announced Thursday will go toward expanding services, such as outreach teams, to move more unsheltered people into housing, said Carolyn Ross, president and CEO of All Chicago, the overseer of Chicago Continuum of Care.
Chicago has recently seen an influx of people spending the night at O’Hare International Airport as well as an increase in the number of migrants needing shelter, an issue that has caused tension within communities that argue existing residents do not get enough support from the city. Wadsworth Elementary School in Woodlawn, one of the sites of tension, was recently converted into a temporary shelter and started receiving migrants Thursday.
According to a 2020 report from Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago’s homeless population is more than 60,000, a number much higher than HUD’s estimates due to differences in how the two agencies define homelessness. HUD, which has estimated Chicago’s homeless population closer to 5,300, does not consider people who are temporarily staying with others to be homeless.
Doug Schenkelberg, executive director of Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, told the Tribune he would not be surprised if the organization’s count for people experiencing homelessness goes up for 2021 numbers expected this spring.
Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services operates more than 3,000 shelter beds at 50 facilities.
Inflation, especially in rent costs, is driving the increase in the number of people — many of whom are senior citizens — without housing across the U.S., Fudge said in an interview with the Tribune.
The Biden administration has set a goal to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025.
Lightfoot said she was moved by the first-person accounts of homelessness she heard in the roundtable discussion before Thursday’s news conference.
“I think we all agree that none of God’s children should be living on the street,” Lightfoot said. “It doesn’t matter the climate or type of year. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to bring people into supportive housing.”