Annual Legislative Meeting Brings Together Suburban Homeless Organizations

The Association of Homeless Advocates in the North/Northwest District recently held its annual legislative breakfast. Representatives from AHAND's 30 member organizations, other homeless service agencies and those with histories of homelessness shared their priorities and experiences with area legislators who were in attendance.

Katie Spoden of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County said it is possible to end homelessness through cross-sector collaboration, data-driven decision making and removing barriers to housing. The organization describes this year as an "opportunity to put a down payment on ending homelessness in Illinois," and the breakfast was a crucial start to shaping Illinois' homelessness response. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) has provided unprecedented funding for human services, and the Illinois House of Representatives Housing Committee recently recommended the state allocate $1 billion of its $8 billion ARPA funding to homelessness.  Alliance members, including BEDS, identified three priorities for Suburban Cook County: preventing homelessness, promoting shelter and prioritizing Permanent Supportive Housing.

At the breakfast, suburban Cook County Continuum of Care organizations shared their needs and work in each priority area.

Preventing homelessness
Jori Kovarsky, supervisor of prevention programs at Connections for the Homeless in Evanston, noted that the Homelessness Prevention service model provides people at imminent risk of homelessness with direct financial assistance, case management and supportive services. The approach keeps households’ records free of evictions, which make securing future housing difficult, and stops them from entering homeless shelters.  From a policy standpoint, Homelessness Prevention programs are a more cost effective homelessness solution for communities and their taxpayers.

COVID-19's rippling socioeconomic effects threaten lower income households throughout Illinois. Connections for the Homelessness has seen households that were stable before the outbreak teetering on the edge of homelessness. Kovarsky said some of the factors behind this sudden housing insecurity include workplace closures, job losses, reduced hours, unemployment expirations, quarantining, lack of childcare, and/or inability to work because of medical risks.

Promoting shelter
Doug Kenshol of South Suburban PADS in Chicago Heights talked about how emergency shelters give those experiencing homelessness safe places to sleep, professional case management and connections to housing and supportive services. Prior to COVID-19, suburban Cook County shelters rotated between community faith-based organizations each day of the week. Shelter guests shared a common area, ate communal meals, and slept on mattress pads in proximity to each other.

Prioritizing housing
Sonia Ivanova, executive director of Northwest Compass in Mount Prospect, spoke about how Permanent Supportive Housing offers housing to people with histories of chronic homelessness (having been homeless for a year or more with a disability). Locations range from dedicated buildings to organization-leased apartments where PSH residents receive intensive case management and supportive services.

Even before COVID-19, chronic homelessness was rising dramatically. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress found that chronic homelessness increased by 15 percent between 2019 and 2020 to an estimated 110,528 people. Two-thirds (73,417) were not in homelessness shelters. Permanent Supportive Housing is the only effective approach to meeting people with histories of chronic homelessness’ needs and helping them become more independent. Ivanova encouraged devoting homeless funding to expanding PSH options throughout the State.

One woman's lived experience
Lorie, a woman with lived experience of homelessness, shared her wrenching experiences. She had suffered a stroke, which left her in a temporary coma. She later learned that her husband visited her in bed and whispered in her ear, “I never loved you. I can’t take care of you. I want a divorce.”

When she returned home, her house was completely empty. She spent a year living in her vehicle in a local Walmart parking lot before reaching out to Northwest Compass. The organization helped her find a stable apartment.

BEDS is excited by the opportunities presented by increased funding for homeless services and agrees with the Legislative Breakfast’s priorities. It will continue to provide evidence-based Prevention and Stabilization, Emergency, and Supportive Housing services to people experiencing homelessness and imminent risk of homelessness in its communities.

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Breakfast attendees
The  Office of Senator Tammy Duckworth
The Office of Congressperson Janet Schakowsky
The Office of Congressperson Brad Schneider
State Senator Cristina Castro
State Senator Ariadne Johnson
The Office of State Senator Laura Fine
The Office of State Senator Ann Gillespie
The Office of State Senator Dan McConchie
The Office of State Senator Laura Murphy
The Office of State Senator Mike Simmons
State Senate Candidate Maria Peterson
State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (19)
State Representative Bob Morgan (58)
State Representative Michelle Mussman (56)
State Representative Denyse Stoneback (16)
State Representative Mark Walker (53)
The Office of State Representative Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz (17)
The Office of Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton (14)
The Office of Cook County Commissioner Kevin Morrison (15)
Mayor of Des Plaines Andrew Goczkowski

The breakfast also hosted representatives from New Trier Township, Northfield Township, Niles Township, the Village of Hanover Park, and the Morton Grove Police Department.