Archive for February, 2010

Homelessness, A Growing Problem

February 21, 2010

As published in The DePaulia.

As the temperatures continue to drop and the weather makes it uncomfortable to even wait on the bus, it’s hard not to notice the makeshift beds laid in the doorways of abandoned buildings and nestled against the stanchions of an underpass.

This is the time of year when homeless shelters and support networks are most heavily taxed.  In an economic reality where local governments are tightening their belts and private donations are dwindling, the circumstances have become considerably more difficult.

A December 2006 study by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the UIC Survey Research Lab estimate that there are 73,656 people in Chicago who experience homelessness over the course of a year, with 21,078 experiencing homelessness on any given night.

According to a Chicago Coalition for the Homeless study, an estimated 35% of the homeless in Chicago are families.  For a family to afford a fair market two bedroom apartment in Chicago, and to stay within the acceptable 30% of total income threshold, a renter would need to earn $17.98 an hour or work 111 hours at minimum wage.

While the causes of homelessness are diverse and complex, the lack of a living wage is a major contributor. To make matters worse, finding a job that offers a living wage is becoming increasingly challenging.  Estimates show that by 2012, 71.5% of all jobs offering wages that could support a family will require education beyond a high school diploma.

The difficulty in finding a job that offers compensation capable of supporting a family goes to show the steep climb required to solve the problem.  And this doesn’t include the many discriminations encountered when seeking employment.  Many homeless struggle with personal issues, including previous institutionalization or incarceration that make finding work nearly impossible.

To make matters worse, according to a study by The Chicago Alliance, the state of Illinois will cut the already shoe-string budget of health and human services by 13%.  The decreased funding will leave homeless shelters able to serve 23% less clients and at least 5,640 experiencing homelessness or at risk for homelessness will be turned away.

While the state may be granted some latitude due to the current economic hardships, it’s hard to ignore these delinquent figures: 53% of homeless providers are owed money by the state with the average tardiness running 13 weeks and some running as late as 8 months.

It should be noted that getting an accurate count on homelessness has proved an intractable endeavor due to the vagaries inherent in attempting to number those who lead lives of transience and unpredictability.  Many of the numbers collected rely on the usage of homeless shelters and services.  These numbers can be misleading, though, as these types of collections have limitations, including times when a shelter will reach capacity and must turn people away.

Others prefer not to rely on the provided services.  Public Policy Professor Toni Lesser believes many see reaching out for aid or assistance as a loss of dignity.  Though it may be difficult for you and I to relate, many remain proud of the independence and lack of reliance on charity and choose to eschew any form of aid.

While the problems facing the homeless are manifold and the number of homeless undoubtedly increasing, perhaps it’s time consider this very real problem in our city, and country as a whole.