A group of advocates for homeless residents of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood are blaming the state’s lingering budget impasse for the impending closure of a homeless shelter that's set to shutter just before the holidays.
The group, which consists of homeless residents, community organizers and clergy, claimed the state’s inability to come up with $100,000 to fund the North Side Housing & Supportive Services shelter is directly tied to the ongoing budget stalemate in Springfield, faulting Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Richard Ducatenzeiler, the shelter's executive director, noted that the decision to close down was made in September after it became clear that funding provided by the state of Illinois through the city of Chicago wouldn't be allocated. In the past few years, the shelter has had a deficit of roughly $100,000 per year.
"We did approach the city in June or July asking for additional funding, which they came back and told us that they did not have even one more dollar to commit in order to continue to operate this program," Ducatenzeiler told Ward Room.
"It's not that the funding actually ran out, it's just that we did not have the sufficient level of funding that we needed to operate the program," he added.
Ducatenzeiler noted that North Side Housing & Supportive Services isn't associated with the group of community activists advocating for the shelter, nor is it associated with a recent GoFundMe page seeking $100,000 to keep the program running.
With the shelter expected to close before year’s end, advocates warn that the “tent city” set up in viaducts underneath Lake Shore Drive in Uptown will expand beyond capacity during the harsh winter months. The group claimed the spike in population could lead to “a greatly increased threat of disability and death” for homeless Chicagoans.
Still, city officials say that won't be the case.
“When DFSS learned earlier this year that this shelter would close permanently by the end of the year, we acted quickly to ensure a smooth transition for all impacted clients," City Hall said in a statement. "Through our strong network of providers operating shelters citywide, we will ensure each of these clients has access to a safe and warm option for relocation, as well as the services they need to help reestablish permanent housing.”
The city said it began working with the shelter months ago to find alternate placements for the 72 clients. Currently, 6 remain at the facility, officials said.
Rauner's office responded to concerns about the state’s precarious economic situation and the shelter’s funding, faulting Illinois Democrats.
"Unfortunately, due to the Democratic majority's failure to pass a balanced budget, meaningful organizations are being forced to make difficult decisions," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement. "We continue to urge the General Assembly to pass a truly balanced budget with reforms to create jobs, lower property taxes, improve schools and enact term limits."
Rauner has made it clear that he won’t sign another stopgap funding compromise with Democrats unless it features two key elements of his turnaround agenda, term limits and a property tax freeze.