A Chicago pilot program is underway to house homeless people who live under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on the city’s North Side. Homeless encampment residents met with city officials Wednesday to discuss the pilot program’s status and what comes next for “Tent City.”
Forty homeless individuals who were living in tent encampments under Lake Shore Drive viaducts on Chicago’s North Side have so far been placed in housing as part of a city pilot program.
Chicago Department of Family and Support Services Commissioner Lisa Morrison Butler provided that update Wednesday morning during a meeting with Uptown’s “Tent City” residents.
The city’s pilot program, announced in April, seeks to place 75 chronically homeless individuals living under the viaducts into permanent housing. The 75 figure is based on the number of tent encampment residents who wanted to be in the pilot program when the city conducted assessments in early April.
Of those 75 individuals, 32 are in “bridge housing” and eight are in permanent housing. Eleven program participants are “inactive,” Morrison Butler said, noting that four are now incarcerated and two have moved out of the state.
“We know who those 11 individuals are,” she said. “We know them by name, and we know why they are inactive.”
Donald King was a Tent City resident and now lives in a temporary unit while he waits to be placed into permanent housing.
“I’m happy that I got it,” King said of his apartment. “I won’t be on the street this winter, and that’s great.”
While King said he feels “very lucky” to have a roof over his head, he said the pilot program has moved too slowly.
The pilot program’s initial goal was to have the 75 people housed by July in an effort to meet federal guidelines recommending that homeless individuals be housed within 90 days of their assessment.
“In Chicago, we are way off of the federal benchmark. We knew that when we started, so we did not get all 75 individuals housed in 90 days,” Morrison Butler said. “We’re not happy, but we we’re not surprised, because we knew from (the city’s efforts to house homeless veterans) that we were averaging about 230 to 240 days.”
The city now hopes to have the pilot program’s participants housed by November.
“Even though it still takes way too long, we’ve shortened that timeframe [from assessment to housing] on this pilot,” Morrison Butler said.
Tent City residents said they would like the pilot program open to more people. They noted that the viaduct encampments could soon see an influx of residents if a 72-bed homeless shelter for men closes in Uptown as planned in December.
The homeless shelter, located in the Peoples Church of Chicago at 941 W. Lawrence Ave., is called the Interim Housing Program. It’s operated by the non-profit organization North Side Housing and Supportive Services, which cited the state budget impasse, inadequate funding and rising costs for the shelter’s impending closure in December, according to a Tuesday announcement.
The shelter, which served 320 men last year, will stop accepting new referrals on October 1 and have its 70 current participants transitioned to other programs by December 23, the non-profit’s executive director said.
Chicago’s pilot program targeting Tent City residents will not be expanded, Morrison Butler said. Lessons learned from the pilot, she said, will be used to strengthen the city’s overall effort to combat homelessness.
As for the Uptown homeless shelter, Morrison Butler said the facility is located in a very old building and it needs a “significant” amount of funding for capital improvements.
“We don’t do capital dollars, and so we couldn’t really help them with that,” she said.
On the issue of funding, Morrison Butler acknowledged that the city’s per-bed rate for shelter operators is low. In 2017, the city may consider increasing the rate by using revenue generated from the recent tax imposed on Airbnb and other house rentals.
“It is one of many things we’d like to do with the Airbnb money,” which will go toward a variety of homeless services, she said. “Think of the Airbnb money as a Christmas list. The truth is, there’s way more things on the list than the money will pay for.”
A point of contention a Wednesday’s meeting was the city’s decision to increase cleanings and trash pickup under the viaducts. From now until October 14, the city will do weekly cleanings under the viaducts, during which homeless encampment residents will have to temporarily move from the location.
At the start of the pilot program, the cleanings happened less frequently. Morrison Butler said the cleanings were initially held back in order to focus on “relationship building” and the pilot program’s assessments.
Going forward, the city also plans to be more aggressive with removing oversized items at the tent encampments.
Some Tent City residents argued that the increased cleanings are a form of harassment and they expressed concern over whether their tents will be confiscated.
“There are different perspectives on this topic within the conversations that I am part of,” Morrison Butler said about the tents. “What I can tell you is we are not taking them now.”
After October 14, Morrison Butler said the city, homeless encampment residents and other stakeholders will regroup to discuss the tents and whether they will need to be removed.
Tent City resident Charles Holder, who is in the pilot program but has yet to be housed, wondered how homeless people would survive the winter without their tents.
“What about the rest of us still under the bridge freezing to death?” he asked.
On brutally cold nights, Morrison Butler said outreach teams are dispatched to connect homeless people to shelters.
“That is something that we do every year, and we’ll continue to do that work,” she said.