EAST GARFIELD PARK — Shelters, medical providers and social service groups are pushing West Side alderpeople to back a campaign to generate tens of millions of city dollars for preventing homelessness.
Housing advocates detailed the campaign, Bring Chicago Home, at a March 31 town hall at Deborah’s Place, a women’s shelter in East Garfield Park.
The coalition members — UCAN, Franciscan Outreach, Saint Anthony Hospital, West Side United and Loretto Hospital — aims to place a referendum on ballot for the November general election that would ask Chicagoans if they’d support increasing the Real Estate Transfer Tax by 1.9 percent on properties sold for more than $1 million.
The results of that vote would not be binding, but it’d given officials a sense of how many people support the change. If the tax increase eventually passed, it would generate $163 million annually that would be dedicated to ending homelessness in Chicago, Bring Chicago Home organizers said.
The group wants to get the question on the ballot through a City Council ordinance. They urged Alds. Walter Burnett (27th) and Jason Ervin (28th) to bring Mayor Lori Lightfoot on board and support the campaign with the full force of the Aldermanic Black Caucus, which Ervin chairs.
The deadline for the City Council to approve such an ordinance is Aug. 22, according to the Chicago Board of Election.
Homelessness is a significant issue on the West Side. In Ervin and Burnett’s wards, there are 1,200 Chicago Public Schools students experiencing homelessness, according to a report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Those wards also have the highest number of shelter calls citywide, the report shows.
There are also 18,000 people on the West Side in doubled-up living situations, according to the report.
“This means … couch surfing with family or friends, and having no permanent place to call home,” said Luwana Johnson, director for shelter operations at Franciscan Outreach. “This funding is creating a lot of avenues for homeless individuals. We’re trying to eliminate all the stigma and all the barriers to get into housing.”
Burnett committed to joining the campaign as a co-sponsor since there aren’t enough housing programs to serve his constituents. In particular, there are not enough shelter beds and housing assistance for people who were formerly incarcerated or those with mental health challenges, Burnett said.
“I was a returning citizen. When I came home, I had to sleep on people’s couches. I had to illegally live in Cabrini Green at my mama’s house even though you’re not supposed to live in public housing when you’re an ex-offender,” Burnett said. “City government, they’re doing what they can, but it’s not enough.”
Funding for homelessness and affordable housing is stretched so thin that nonprofits and social service groups have to compete with city agencies for the same pools of grants and tax credits, Burnett said.
“Organizations that have apartments, they all have waiting lists. … [Affordable housing] takes a long time to be built because there’s not enough resources. … They have to wait in line for tax credits,” Burnett said. “Organizations like [Deborah’s Place], they’ve got to literally compete with” the Chicago Housing Authority.
Ervin said he would not support the campaign even though he acknowledges “homelessness is definitely one of the top issues” on the West Side. He said a sticking point for him is other pressing issues on the West Side could benefit from more funding, and he would want to broaden what the tax money benefits so it could also “focus on violence prevention [and] offering opportunities to our young people.”
Many West Side health organizations said unstable housing ties into other social issues affecting neighbors.
“If people have their own safe housing situations, they won’t be out in unsafe environments,” said Latoya Winters, a Garfield Park resident who does social work for St. Anthony Hospital in North Lawndale.
Housing could help address the health disparities prevalent on the West Side since people who don’t have a stable living situation are under more mental stress and are more likely to experience conditions that threaten their physical health, Winters said.
“Physical health and mental health and wellbeing, it all goes together. If you solve one, then that helps to solve all the others,” Winters said.
The lack of housing assistance and affordable housing on the West Side often forces families to relocate. Longtime North Lawndale resident Amanda Henley had to move her family to Bronzeville to get the assistance to find a stable living situation, she said.
Henley’s kids still go to school on the West Side since they’re part of a close-knit school community. The family’s doctors are also based on the West Side, which made it tough to leave the neighborhood, she said.
“It’s difficult traveling back and forth. … My family is so engaged in North Lawndale,” Henley said. “More funding allows families like myself to remain in their communities.”
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