clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pritzker creates staff position to lead task force to help Illinoisans ‘get back on their feet’ — and end homelessness

Under the guidance of the “homelessness chief,” the task force will develop and implement plans to prevent and address homelessness with a goal of achieving “functional zero homelessness.”

Kyanna Johnson, a public ally at the Night Ministry, right, hands a bag of food to a homeless person as the non-profit offers free health care and outreach services at a CTA station in February.
While the line of people in need grows to more than a dozen, Kyanna Johnson, a public ally at the Night Ministry, right, hands a bag of food to a homeless person as the non-profit offers free health care and outreach services at a CTA station in February.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With the state’s eviction moratorium set to end in a month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday announced a new staff position and task force with an ambitious mission: “the ultimate goal of achieving functional zero homelessness.”

The governor created the task force through an executive order that also calls for a new state “homelessness chief” to lead the panel from within the state Department of Human Services.

At a Friday morning news conference, Pritzker said it’s estimated that “over 10,000 of our neighbors across Illinois are experiencing homelessness, right at this moment.”

“I want to be clear that homelessness is a circumstance. It is not an identity, and it has real impact on real people,” Pritzker said at La Casa Norte on Chicago’s West Side.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces the creation of a homelessness task force during a news conference Friday at La Casa Norte on Chicago’s West Side.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces the creation of a homelessness task force during a news conference Friday at La Casa Norte on Chicago’s West Side.
Blue Room Stream

“Homelessness has many faces — it’s urban, and it’s rural. ... It can be a person with disabilities; an actual working, but underemployed, adult; a veteran; a senior, and it will be — always — a person deserving of dignity, a person deserving of opportunity,” Pritzker said.

“Together, step by step, we will work to give it to them. So that Illinois is a place all our residents can truly call home and be proud of.”

State agencies will work with community organizations such as La Casa Norte to “strengthen safety nets, support local solutions and provide effective help for those dealing with the housing crisis, to get them back on their feet,” Pritzker said.

Under the guidance of the homelessness chief, the task force will develop and implement plans to prevent and address homelessness with a goal of achieving “functional zero homelessness,” according to a news release announcing the task force’s creation.

Functional zero homelessness is a milestone that would mean the state has effectively ended homelessness, according to the homelessness-focused nonprofit Community Solutions.

Keith Belton, right, a peer advocate at the Night Ministry, hands “harm reduction” products, such as hand sanitizer, to a homeless person at the CTA’s Blue Line Forest Park station in February.
Keith Belton, right, a peer advocate at the Night Ministry, hands “harm reduction” products, such as hand sanitizer, to a homeless person at the CTA’s Blue Line Forest Park station in February.
Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

The group of state agencies and community groups will come up with a blueprint for improving health and human services for those experiencing homelessness in Illinois, focusing on local solutions and safety nets to address the root causes.

The homelessness chief position has not yet been filled, though the administration hopes to do so soon, a spokeswoman said. The salary will be commensurate with experience, she said.

The task force is the state’s latest effort to help those experiencing homelessness housing insecurity.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker said last week the eviction moratorium, which was recently extended to Sept. 18, will now end Oct. 3. On Monday, the Illinois Supreme Court extended its order barring the start of eviction trials until Sept. 18.

Last year, the state dedicated $329 million to help keep 56,000 families housed during the pandemic and another $1.5 billion has been earmarked for housing assistance in 2021.

Monique Harvey, a member of La Casa Norte’s Youth in College Program, spoke to the need for having programs such as the one offered through that organization, which supports those facing homelessness.

“I went from having no heat to finding an apartment that offered free heat, I went from sleeping in the backseat of my car, to having my own bed sheets,” Harvey said. “Those transitions — no one wants to go through it, I didn’t want to go through it, but it happened, and I came across La Casa Norte and they gave me my own space, my own stability, my own foundation, my own family.

“They say blood is thicker than water, but I think that this water that I have found is much thicker.”