Illinois recently released Home Illinois: Illinois’ Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, which outlines the state’s approach to homelessness for the next several years. The plan grew out of Illinois’ September 2021 Executive Order that recognized a “momentous opportunity...to execute a robust and sustainable solution to homelessness” and created an interagency task force with a mandate to develop it. Home Illinois will shape our state policy and funding landscape, so we want to take a quick look at how it was put together and what it entails.
What does the plan include?
The plan identifies four strategies for preventing and ending homelessness: building affordable and permanent supportive housing, bolstering the safety net, securing financial stability, and closing the mortality gap. For each strategy, it outlines state agencies’ existing activities, existing activities that will be expanded, and new activities to address homelessness. Below, we summarize each strategy, its key new activities, and our work in the area.
Who developed the Home Illinois plan?
Planning convened several planning bodies and leaders:
- The Illinois Interagency Task Force on Homelessness, which “coordinate[s] strategy, effort and impact in programs for persons experiencing homelessness and housing instabilities.” It includes representatives from a range of Illinois government departments, including the Illinois Housing Development Authority, Department of Human Services, Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and many others (follow the link for a full list).
- The Illinois Community Advisory Council on Homelessness, which ensures Task Force deliberations incorporate different sectors and communities’ needs and capabilities. Its members include people with lived experience; urban, suburban, and rural homeless services; housing providers; behavioral health agencies; disability advocates; philanthropies; and local government representatives (follow the link for a full list).
- State Homelessness Chief Christine Haley, who leads the State’s efforts to decrease homelessness. Ms. Haley formerly served as the Director of Housing at Cook County Health, Senior Director of Programs at Housing Opportunities for Women (HOW), and the Executive Director of the Chicago Torture Justice Center.
All told, the process involved 400 stakeholders. State agencies held more than 100 planning meetings and other activities. Community members including homeless service agency representatives, people with lived experience of homelessness, and other stakeholders took part in 16 listening sessions and sent written comments to further inform the process. Home Illinois’ resulting strategies reflect a broad legislative and community consensus.
Strategy #1: Building Affordable and Permanent Supportive Housing
Overall homelessness in Illinois has decreased; however, the State still has an acute lack of affordable housing—including more than 100,000 fewer units than necessary to meet demand in Cook County. The number of people experiencing chronic homelessness (having been homeless for a year or more, or repeatedly during an extended period,1 with a documented disability) has also grown since 2016. Illinois’ 2020 Homeless Point in Time Count2 found 2,305 people experiencing chronic homelessness. These individuals risk exacerbating their disabilities, developing new medical and behavioral health conditions, and falling victim to violence and exploitation. They need intensive services and may not ever achieve full independence, but Permanent Supportive Housing programs provide stable housing, intensive case management, and wraparound care for them to thrive. The plan’s new approaches for building affordable and permanent supportive housing include:
- Allocating $62 million to create affordable rental units and non-group homeless shelters through the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
- Building access to IDHA affordable housing programs through adjusting the current tenant selection plan and providing training and support to program property managers.
- Working with the Chicago and Cook County Flexible Housing Pool to create housing programs that help people experiencing homelessness with serious medical conditions enter permanent supportive housing.
- Provide rental assistance and support to people at risk of unnecessary institutionalization and substance overdoses through the Housing is Recovery pilot program.
- Find opportunities to develop permanent supportive housing programs for justice-involved households in danger of recidivism.
We operate 98 fixed- and scattered-site Permanent Supportive Housing units for individuals with histories of chronic homelessness. When the Linda Sokol Frances Summit Service Center opens in Fall 2022, it will annually shelter 50 people experiencing homelessness with serious medical conditions as they prepare to enter mainstream Permanent Supportive Housing or other programs.
Strategy #2: Bolster the Safety Net
The COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic effects highlighted glaring gaps in the Illinois safety net for households at risk of homelessness. The plan’s scope of a safety net includes government departments, benefits programs, and initiatives—and, by extension, community programs and human service providers that participate in government initiatives and receive government funding. So, it includes nearly 20 new steps to strengthen Illinois’ safety net, such as:
- Seeking opportunities in the IDHS budget to develop and expand non-congregate shelter operations and services.
- Increasing Transitional Housing residents’ behavioral health service use by adding behavioral health liaisons to Transitional Housing program service models.
- Partnering with the Illinois Commission to End Hunger to develop strategies for meeting shelter and interim housing clients’ special nutritional needs.
- Finding ways to expand Medicaid to cover people experiencing homelessness with serious medical conditions’ stays in homeless medical respite facilities.
- Adding a Statewide Special Populations Coordinator to find housing options for people with physical and behavioral health conditions and others facing housing barriers.
We provide an array of safety net services, like a non-congregate shelter program in Southwest Suburban Cook County motels and several Transitional Housing programs for vulnerable homeless populations, including families, transition-aged youth, domestic violence survivors, and victims of crime, all of whom receive intensive case management. Our Food Rescue team distributes nutritious meals and food products to our shelter and Permanent Supportive Housing clients.
Strategy #3: Secure Financial Stability
COVID-19 and its socioeconomic effects fell hardest on low-income households. Job losses were the most common in lower paying job sectors like leisure and hospitality, and an uneven, “K-shaped” economic recovery has created barriers to rebuilding income and regaining stability. Now that COVID-19 unemployment benefit, emergency rental assistance, and eviction moratorium programs have expired, lower income households are more vulnerable to homelessness. Key elements of the plan include:
- Ensuring equitable access to unemployment benefits.
- Collaborating with the Division of Family & Community Services and Illinois Commission to End Hunger to implement a pilot SNAP (traditionally referred to as Food Stamps) Restaurant Meal Program that could reach up to 32,000 Illinois residents.
- Offering cash assistance for families not eligible for the Child Tax Credit due to documentation status through the Welcoming Center COVID-19 Relief Project.
- Giving McKinney-Vento Act eligible students experiencing homelessness opportunities to develop individual success plans akin to the Harvard EdRedesign program models.
- Furthering understanding of Illinois residents experiencing homelessness and employment through the Coleridge Initiative Administrative Data Research Facility (ARDF) Unemployment to Reemployment Portal.
Building clients’ income and financial stability represent key outcomes of our wraparound care. Our case managers help clients identify and apply for benefits programs that they qualify for, and our Employment Program prepares clients to reenter the workforce and builds partnerships with area employers, many of whom directly hire our clients. BEDS Family Case Manager connects families with children access child- and student-specific support programs. Last year, 71 percent of clients leaving our programs increased or sustained their income, and 69 percent of clients who did not have non-cash benefits when they entered left with them.
Strategy #4: Close the Mortality Gap
The plan cites “national data” that shows the average age of death for people experiencing homelessness is 51—26 years fewer than the general population. The stark inequality results from several factors, including people experiencing homelessness’ physiological wear and tear from sleeping in places not meant for human inhabitation and traditional homeless shelters; higher rates of chronic health and behavioral health issues; and risks of violence, including hate crimes, and exploitation. The plan focuses on two new approaches to addressing this complex problem:
- Creating a statewide report on Illinois residents experiencing homelessness’ health to further understand mortality rates, causes of death, and comparisons to housed people.
- Training and supplying technical resources for Illinois Police and other first responders to address Opioid Use Disorder and connect individuals to resources.
We have increasingly focused on helping clients address their health and behavioral healthcare needs. Last year, 51 percent of BEDS clients reported at least on disabling condition with small but significant groups reporting alcohol and/or other substance use. Prior to COVID-19, we had run onsite healthcare and behavioral healthcare clinics at our Ogden Avenue Supportive Housing daytime support center and high traffic Emergency Shelter locations. After Illinois’ emergency shutdown order, we continued clinical services, including COVID-19 vaccinations, at our motel-based Emergency Shelters. Our staff also includes several Certified Alcohol and Other Drug Counselors. We’ve recently completed a $2.7 million campaign for the Linda Sokol Francis Summit Service Center, a homeless medical respite center that will serve 50 people experiencing homelessness with serious medical conditions. It will open in Fall 2022.
BEDS was excited to read this plan, which will increase support to clients and people experiencing homelessness through the state’s access to housing, supportive services, and benefits. To supplement the state plan and support our work, click here.
Stay informed about the plan by visiting the IDHS website IDHS: Ending Homelessness (state.il.us)