Hostages in Illinois
Seven-below windchill and brutal north winds this afternoon. I am walking into a little bodega that serves coffee when I hear my name pronounced in greeting behind me. When I turn, I see a “guest” from the shelter where I supervise standing in full snowmobile regalia. He extends an open hand that is as cold as a steel rail on a day like this.
“My Lord, Paul,” I say. “You’re freezing!”
Paul drops his many bags and gear on the floor of the mall. His face is blotched red and white in that furious patchwork of wind-burn and severe cold. “I just bicycled from Flossmoor, and now I am taking a moment to warm up before I head out again for the shelter that’s open tonight.”
Over 20 miles and another 5 to go. After that, the discussion becomes one-sided, and Paul explains to me all of the techniques and strategies he uses to stay mobile, fed, warm, and alive during this cold snap. Beyond wondering how he rides a bike in the snow, I find myself fascinated.
“These are actually the sleeves from a child’s winter coat,” he explains. “I remove the sewing at the shoulders, sew the shoulder ends shut, and then use them as giant mittens over my gloves as I ride. And, by using a large rubber band to tighten around my hand, I can separate my thumb so I can grasp the handles of the bike.”
I think to myself that Paul, whom I’ve known for quite some time, is a survivor, but the years are taking their toll on him. And the others who cannot adapt like this smiling, survivalist-type are free-falling in Illinois’ budget impasse.
Please let it get warm soon.
“The state’s inability to pass a budget has put a strain on the local shelter system, placing unnecessary hardship on people experiencing homelessness, a large portion of whom are families with children…With NO Homeless Prevention Program resources to prevent eviction or assistance to help with security deposits and first month’s rent, many households are stuck in limbo at the shelter system level.”
Lynda Schueler, Executive Director, Housing Forward, Maywood
As impossible as it may seem to believe, significant moneys reserved for the homeless and those facing such dilemmas are sitting idle while Governor Rauner and the General Assembly continue their personal, political war of demands and refusals.
A recent report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless finds “As the state budget impasse nears its six-month mark, the State of Illinois has accumulated $107.8 million in 7 dedicated funds to create affordable housing and end homelessness. However, these funds – such as the Illinois Affordable Housing Trust Fund and federal HOME Investment Partnership Program funds – cannot be spent without approval by the General Assembly and Governor Rauner.”
Allow me a moment to put a personal face on this issue.
Our shelters in my tier of the south-side have been dealing with a serious issue of overcrowding this season; specifically, more abused or homeless women and children than we have experienced ever before.
My site can hold a maximum combination of 40 men, women, and children. I am also lucky enough to have an overflow sister church that will take men only, just in case too many arrive at my own site for food and shelter. One night last month saw 36 women and children in my site; 16 of that number were children as young as three months. Fifteen men at my site volunteered to walk, bike or ride to the other overflow site so the women could find areas on the floors to sleep with their children.
“One of my guests, an older man with severe physical challenges said to me, “If it’s for women and children, count me in. I’ll find a way over to the other place.”
Now, that’s a man of considerable grace.
According to the report by Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, “Based on the budget passed by the General Assembly in May 2015, resources from these dedicated funds and a small amount of GRF (General Revenue Fund) could fund programs servbing the affordable housing needs of 172,350 people and create or preserve 14,640 units of affordable housing.”
The result of this budget impasse and the inability to “free” up money that was specifically designated in Illinois for this cause (without tax consequence) will have ripple effects as well. Here are some: keeping 3000 unaccompanied and uncared for youth off the streets, supporting over 12,000 people in supportive housing units, preserving 1700 affordable rental units for low-income residents, counseling over 40,000 households in how to avoid foreclosures, and assisting another 140 low-income households in rehabilitating inadequate housing.
After one year in office, Rauner discussed his rookie term with the Tribune. “Rauner acknowledges things are hard for some but says Illinois must go through "short-term pain" in order to make long-term gains of a strong economy for decades to come. He contends those gains will happen only if lawmakers pass his sweeping agenda to limit the rights of union workers, toughen standards for employees seeking compensation for injuries on the job, limit expensive payouts in civil lawsuits and freeze local property taxes.”
"Hard for some?" Really hard when you know the money was already reserved to help them.
A study in contrasts...
Read the entire Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Report.