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Homeless Housing Effort Hits Snags

A pilot program to house some chronically homeless people from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is hitting some snags. The city announced in April that it would find transitional or permanent housing for 75 individuals by early July, but so far only 17 people have been housed.

Officials cite the tight rental market on the North Side and challenges in keeping track of program participants as key reasons for the slow pace. WBEZ’s Odette Yousef reports.

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Homeless viaduct

Mark Saulys is one of 75 homeless living in tent encampments under viaducts in Uptown who will receive permanent supportive housing as part of a city pilot program. So far, he says he’s received little information about how and when he will move.

Odette Yousef

A pilot program to find apartments for 75 people who are chronically homeless from Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood is hitting some snags. The city announced the pilot program back in April with the hope that the individuals, who live in tent encampments under four viaducts near the lake, would be moved at least into temporary units by early July. As of mid-July, the city said it had moved only 17 people.

“It has gone much slower than we had hoped for,” acknowledged Lisa Morrison Butler, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Family and Social Services. “There isn’t a single person who isn’t frustrated about that.”

Morrison Butler said after the program’s delegate agencies assessed participants for the program, as many as 20 of the homeless on their list failed to connect again with outreach workers. She said many of them may be distrustful of the system. Additionally, Morrison Butler said several participants lack forms of identification, which has further slowed down efforts to place them into housing.

But the biggest challenge, according to many familiar with the program, has been a shortage of so-called “bridge” housing units on the city’s North Side, where many participants would like to remain. Morrison Butler attributes this to a general tightness in the rental market. So far, the bridge units have been in single-room occupancy hotels, but Morrison Butler said city officials are broadening the call to ask a much wider net of landlords to self-identify if they have apartments. Participants in the pilot program would live in the bridge units for a few months, until permanent housing with support services is found.

“We are really happy that we’re starting to finally see an uptick in momentum,” said Morrison Butler.

The pace of the program, however, has left many pilot participants in the lurch. Five delegate agencies, such as Heartland Health Outreach, have been tasked with working directly with homeless participants to transition them into housing.

“I haven’t been matched with a housing agency yet, and as of like several weeks ago like 40 people hadn’t heard anything back,” said Mark Saulys, who is on the list of people to receive housing. “So a lot of people are worried. They thought that they had been forgotten.”

“Everything’s at a standstill at this point,” said Charles Holder, who said he’s been homeless for five years. “They don’t know which agency for us to be hooked up to.”

Both Holder and Saulys said they do believe the city will make good on its promise to move them into housing. But they said they worry for the dozens of other homeless who are not part of the pilot program, and who may remain in tent encampments under the Uptown viaducts. Morrison Butler said the intent of the pilot program was never to clear the viaducts, but to learn as much as the city could about the challenges and requirements to address chronically homeless with a housing-first approach.

Odette Yousef is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @oyousef and @WBEZoutloud.

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