Almost nine months. That’s how long the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget. For many agencies that serve the most vulnerable people, it’s meant months and months without critical state payments.
That’s put young homeless mothers like 22-year-old Caprice Williams who live at a transitional housing facility in Chicago in limbo. She works at a Walgreens and takes care of her 7-month-old daughter Mariyonna.
Williams and her daughter’s studio apartment is at Harmony Village near 76th Street and Vincennes.
The women can stay only for two years. The $690 rent is subsidized. Women like Williams who have a job pay 30 percent of their income. Williams has been here for about a year already. It’s given her a chance to save and plan for an independent future.
“More than likely I’ll be in school, still working my job at Walgreens. I don’t see myself leaving there anytime soon,” she said. “And I’ll be able to afford an apartment. I see myself on my feet in about a year.”
Williams ended up at Harmony Village after her relationship with her mother turned sour. For a while she lived in her car. When she was five months pregnant, she was walking with the father of her child when he was shot and paralyzed. He’s not living with Williams, but they keep in touch. After all that chaos, she’s gotten some stability.
“Just the fact that we have our own place. You know we have a key. We can come in and close the door if we don’t want to be bothered and stuff. It’s just great,” she said.
The non-profit Unity Parenting and Counseling runs this home. Anne Holcomb with Unity says Harmony Village gets a mix of federal and state money —at least it has a contract with the state—a 5-year contract. But the facility hasn’t received any state money since July.
And there’s no guarantee that private donations can fill all the holes, especially when other homeless programs are in the same situation.
“There is no other program that can absorb these young women with their children. They would literally be on the street. They’d be choosing to live in unsafe situations,” Holcomb said.
To head that off, Holcomb says the organization has already made cuts - downsizing office space, furlough days for staff. Still, she was bracing for the program to be evicted from its building by the end of April. Now donations and small grants have put that off until June.
Holcomb says eviction means 28 adults and 32 children would be without not just an apartment, but counseling, job connections and parenting programs. Holcomb was homeless when she was young, and she says she’s seen the consequences first hand.
“You wait ten years, and they’re either going to be dead or they’re going to be so damaged, they’re going to be service dependent the rest of their life,” she said.
The burden of that, she says, falls directly on taxpayers.
Caprice Williams thought if people in power knew what was going on, they would want to help. So back in February, Williams and other young people who are homeless decided to go talk with Governor Bruce Rauner. They told the governor about their lives, and asked him to approve legislation to release money for programs for homeless people—even without a state budget. Williams says it was emotionally exhausting, and the governor even offered her a hug. But days later, she says, Rauner’s office told them the money would have to wait for the larger budget discussion.
“I put it out there, I did. And it got crushed. It’s like he told us, I think about it, just to get us out of his face,” she said.
Williams looks down at her daughter. She says she’s happy Marriyona doesn’t know the situation they’re in.
“I was just crying earlier because I was feeling overwhelmed and I was just crying, and I look down and she’s smiling at me because I’m crying and I just started laughing. She’s just my joy,” she said.
In preparation for eviction, Williams has signed up for public housing in another state, where she may not have a job.
We’re collecting the stories of some of the people Caught in the Middle of Illinois’ budget impasse. The state hasn’t had a budget since July 1, 2015. There are everyday people whose lives are changing as a result. Find more of their stories here.