While the federal government is providing more than $5 billion to Illinois to assist in covering the costs of the coronavirus pandemic, organizers and activists on behalf of homeless Illinoisans say those dollars aren’t automatically coming their way, and they’re having to fight for what they believe is their share.
A Safe Haven, a facility located on Chicago’s West Side, has been a leader for years when it comes to providing housing and medical care for homeless residents. The pandemic caused a slew of new challenges for the facility.
“We had the ‘shelter-in-place’ rule, and overnight we had 400 people living here that we could no longer move through the system,” Neli Vazquez-Rowland, the founder of A Safe Haven, said. “We couldn’t get them housing, or even job interviews. We were clearly not at the top of the list in terms of prioritizing resources.”
Those who live and work in homeless shelters had to wait for assistance, and they often were not included in the first wave of vaccine doses, or shipments of personal protective equipment, with hospitals and nursing homes receiving those critical treatments first.
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Vasquez Rowland is fighting for the HB 3949 bill, currently stalled in the Illinois House, that would ask that homeless service providers qualify for the same priority benefits and access afforded to health care organizations and frontline workers.
“What I want to do is just make sure that we’re not left out,” she said.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, says it makes sense to provide those funds and materials at the source, where it is so often desperately needed.
“We think it’s a best practice to have primary care available,” she said.
State Rep. LaShawn Ford says that there is some concern that hospitals and nursing homes may not be willing to share the $5.5 billion in CARES Act funding, and says that he is pushing hard to make sure that they are included in those payouts.
“You’ve seen these agencies with more money than they’ve had in a very long time, and they’re holding it close to their vests, and they don’t want to let it go,” he said.
Ford says it’s highly unlikely that the bill will pass in the final days of the spring legislative session, but vowed to try again in the fall if it doesn’t pass.