It’s never harder to be homeless in Chicago than during the holidays. It’s cold, and the rest of the city is indoors, enjoying food, family and gifts.
The city estimates we have 89,000 homeless people in Chicago, with an average age of nine years old.
On Thursday, during a press conference at the West Side's Chicago Family Assistance Center, Gery Chico came out with a three-part plan to reduce homelessness that’s especially interesting because it favors an ordinance that’s been blocked by his political sponsor, Ald. Ed Burke.
The Sweet Home Chicago ordinance would require the city to set aside 20 percent of TIF funds for affordable housing. That would provide $100 million a year to house low-income renters. Burke supports a competing ordinance that would set a non-binding "goal" of 15 percent. Right now, the city only devotes three to four percent of TIF dollars to affordable housing.
Mayor Richard Daley, Chico’s other patron, also opposes the ordinance. Chico took the mayor to task in a statement:
"Seven years ago, the mayor enacted a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Chicago. To date, the plan has not succeeded in making affordable, permanent housing available for those who become homeless. We are falling short of our goal. The Sweet Home Chicago ordinance would allow us to build housing more quickly, get people into homes and move us much closer to eliminating homelessness in our city."
Since so many of Chicago’s homeless are children, Chico wants to strengthen the Chicago Public Schools’ Homeless Education Program. Federal law requires that every school has a Homeless Student Liaison.
"In some CPS schools this individual is a social worker who can adequately identify and connect homeless students with the help and support they need,” Chico said. “However, many CPS schools designate this position to an office secretary or office manager who does little more than report numbers. In the process, thousands of students are ‘falling through the cracks.’”
If Chico is elected, the leader of the Homeless Education Program will coordinate with the mayor’s office and report to the schools’ CEO, he said.
Chico also wants to encourage greater collaboration among agencies that provide homeless services.