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Uptown Chicago Commission Press Release

March 8, 2005

Chicago's program to end homelessness to replace most overnight shelters, focus on permanent housing

The city of Chicago's traditional method of addressing homelessness, criticized by many for failing to address the root causes of people living on the streets, is undergoing a slow but dramatic change.

Through a 10-year program called the Chicago Continuum of Care, overnight shelters will largely be replaced over the next eight years by interim housing where individuals and families can reside for up to 120 days, then move to permanent housing, according to Liz Drapa, the program's acting director. The program is in its starting its third year.

Speaking to a March 1 meeting of residents representing __ block clubs in the Uptown neighborhood sponsored by the Uptown Chicago Commission, Ms. Drapa outlined the concept behind the Continuum of Care, the myriad issues involved in coordinating new housing and social service programs, and the likely impact it would have on neighborhoods where overnight shelters have been located.

The program's overall goal for Chicago's homeless population is "getting housed, staying housed," said Ms. Drapa. Approximately 9,687 people are estimated to be homeless in Chicago at any given point in time; 7,156 reside in temporary shelters, and 2,531 reside in streets or in public places, according to a count conducted in 2004.

To change that dynamic, the Continuum has brought together between 200 and 300 organizations, half of which are housing and service providers, such as overnight or drop-in shelters. The remainder are organizations, such as churches or other entities that serve individuals in need, she said. More than 50 programs in Uptown are part of the Continuum of Care, Ms. Drapa said. The Continuum's board of directors is a public-private partnership made up of 59 representatives, including providers; city, federal and state agencies; and advocacy groups.

Although the program will serve all homeless individuals, as much as 15% of homelessness can be prevented in the beginning with legal assistance or other types of services, she said. The other 85% of the population is unable to maintain a home without some type of transitional assistance, she said. "For this population, we want to take the hops out of the system so people are not in shelters for years," Ms. Drapa said.

To achieve that goal, the program will seek to place homeless individuals and families in interim housing, or housing shelters that would be available on a 24-hour basis. Unlike in the past, when individuals could remain in shelters for years, shelters would serve "as an interim home" for a maximum of 120 days where individuals would receive "assertive case management services", Ms. Drapa told the group.

After the 120 days, individuals and families would move into permanent housing, of which 3,500 units are needed to meet the current demand, she said. To acquire permanent housing, the Continuum is "pushing for rental subsidies" for about 1,000 units that could be underwritten by a $10 fee added onto mortgage transactions, Ms. Drapa said.

Development and rental of permanent housing has been concentrated on the South and West Sides of the city, she said. "We want to keep people in their communities," she said

A total ranging between $17 and $18 million is being sought by the city of Chicago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other partners to underwrite the cost of the 10-year effort.

Given the high proportion (48%) of homeless individuals with substance abuse or mental health problems, the Continuum's plan also calls for an emphasis on "recovery-based housing," according to Ms. Drapa. This approach targets substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling to individuals who live in small group housing. "We need to reduce harm to the community and to the individual," she said.

Without predicting the fate of homeless shelters and services in the Uptown neighborhood, Ms. Drapa said the program would "move the services to where the people are. It's unacceptable to expect people to [travel for treatment or counseling] if the services are all in Uptown," when there is a lack of services in other areas of the city.

She said she was receptive to the idea of accountability toward the communities where homeless providers are located, a suggestion offered by a one block club member.

Additional information on the program is available at: www.chicagocontinuum.org

High resolution photos are available upon request.

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