Homeless can keep staying at a downtown Chicago hotel through the winter

Homelessness in Chicago
A homeless man Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, gathers his belongings at the Chicago Transit Authority's Clark & Dearborn bus station. On Wednesday, aldermen extended an agreement house homeless residents at a downtown hotel as the pandemic continues into the winter. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
Homelessness in Chicago
A homeless man Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, gathers his belongings at the Chicago Transit Authority's Clark & Dearborn bus station. On Wednesday, aldermen extended an agreement house homeless residents at a downtown hotel as the pandemic continues into the winter. Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press

Homeless can keep staying at a downtown Chicago hotel through the winter

Chicago aldermen on Wednesday extended an agreement to pay more than $500,000 a month to house homeless residents at a downtown hotel as the pandemic continues into the winter.

The city pays $99 per room, per day, for 175 rooms at Hotel Julian in an effort to lift the burden off congregate shelters, which struggled to meet demand while also keeping residents at a safe distance when the pandemic struck. The deal signed Wednesday will extend that agreement until February.

“This extension request really gets us through the winter, as we are also concerned about cold weather and people needing to come inside,” said Maura McCauley, with the Department of Family and Support Services, at a committee meeting on the ordinance last week.

The agreement also covers three meals a day and support services for residents.

McCauley said the city has been using a “rapid housing” strategy to quickly move people from the hotel into permanent housing. She told aldermen the hotel stay has been a beneficial step stone toward getting residents into permanent housing.

“We’ve seen immense improvements through this initiative at Hotel Julian … People just do better in the privacy of their own rooms when they have access to a shower and food and private space,” McCauley said, adding the city has transferred 130 Chicagoans into housing after their hotel stay.

Aldermen approved the deal without debate Wednesday.

At a previous meeting, council members raised concerns about the temporary nature of the solution, in part, they said, because it seems to be an effective one in providing support needed to move Chicago’s homeless residents into permanent housing.

But, other aldermen at the committee meeting raised questions about the cost and effectiveness of the program, as the city pays for all of those rooms, but they’re not all being filled.

Of the 175 rooms rented, just 73 were occupied last week — a fact noted Wednesday by an advocate who urged aldermen to find broader solutions to homelessness.

“We have families with children living in the hallways of shelters,” said Bruce Perry with the National Union for the Homeless. “It is unacceptable that thousands of people have been on waiting lists for housing for decades.”

McCauley said the department is working on “staffing back up” to fill at least 100 rooms in the winter months, noting part of the challenging is “the nature of having a three month-term … and having to modify staffing.”

Ald. Harry Osterman, 48th Ward, says he’ll request another meeting with department officials by the end of the year to talk through some of the concerns raised.

The hotel, through its deal with the city, primarily serves homeless men over 60 with chronic health conditions, but the department said it opens rooms to others who don’t have anywhere else to stay.

Chicago aldermen on Wednesday also greenlit a proposal to use tax increment financing to turn about 100 city-owned vacant lots in North Lawndale into affordable housing. Council members also took a vote on and approved a controversial proposal to allow the city’s appointed Police Board to be the agency that creates an appeals process for people whom police have designated as gang members, despite criticism that the plan lacks transparency.

An ordinance to allow dogs in bars that don’t serve food also passed. Supporting aldermen said the proposal was needed to prevent bars that serve cocktail garnishes — like olives, cherries, or lemons — from being cited by the city, which does not allow dogs in establishments that serve food.

Mariah Woelfel covers Chicago city government at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.