Chicago gets $60 million federal grant to combat homelessness

Chicago’s grant was the biggest one in a pool of $315 million distributed nationwide. It will provide over 700 units of permanent supportive housing, as well as 50 units of short-term housing.

SHARE Chicago gets $60 million federal grant to combat homelessness
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge joined Mayor Lori Lighfoot (left) and others for a news conference at the Brainerd Park Apartments on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge joined Mayor Lori Lighfoot (left) and others for a news conference at the Brainerd Park Apartments on the South Side for the announcement that Chicago is receiving a $60 million federal grant to fight homelessness.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been under fire for breaking her 2019 campaign promise to raise the real estate transfer tax on high-end home sales to create a dedicated funding source to combat homelessness and create affordable housing.

But Thursday was a good day in the fight against homelessness in Chicago, a problem mirrored in many major cities.

Chicago announced it is receiving a $60 million federal grant — the largest single grant in a $315 million pot of money doled out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, a former mayor of Warrensville Heights in Lightfoot’s native Ohio, made a special trip to Chicago to deliver the symbolic, oversized check.

“I really enjoy giving money to people. … We know that it is going to make a difference,” Fudge told a news conference at Brainerd Park Apartments, 8920 S. Loomis St.

In all, 46 communities got grants and vouchers to address homelessness. Chicago got the largest chunk because of its “amazing proposal — by far one of the best we’ve ever seen,” she said.

“We tend to focus a lot of our attention on the coasts. I’m from the heartland. We have problems, as well. Knowing the work that has already been done by the administration ... it was a perfect place to come,” Fudge said.

Calling homelessness a festering problem “ignored for far too long,” Fudge added: “When I got off the plane yesterday, I remarked on how cold it was. No one should be sleeping on the streets in this kind of weather. A nation that cannot take people off the street has failed.”

Lightfoot called the grant a “blessing for those that need it most.”

It will “immediately translate into helping us bring more people into housing and supportive services,” the mayor said.

“When I go by and I see the encampments — it’s heartbreaking. … This will help us deepen the work that we’re doing with our partners, will help us make sure that we’re reaching those folks.”

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge (center right) joined Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot (center left) to present a symbolic check to the city, which is getting a $60 million federal grant to fight homelessness.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge (center right) joined Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot (center left) to present a symbolic check to the city, which is getting a $60 million federal grant to fight homelessness.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Homelessness is a complex problem and not easily solved, Lightfoot said.

“It could be financial. It could be mental health. It could be substance abuse. It could be victimization from human trafficking and other issues or some combination of all of the above,” she said.

The mayor talked about how moved she was to hear the “poignant” first-hand accounts of living on Chicago’s streets, stories shared during a roundtable discussion before Thursday’s news conference.

“One man said, ‘When you’re fighting every single day to understand where you’re gonna lay your head at night, it makes you desperate,’” Lightfoot said.

“And the benefit that he has now received by being in housing is [the highlight of] his life. I will never forget that.”

The $60 million will provide over 700 units of permanent housing with “no time limits,” along with “intensive case management and support services” for those recipients. It also will provide more than 50 units of rapid rehousing with time-limited subsidies.

It also allows the city to launch a new program model called “triage housing” that adds 60 units of emergency housing, used as a stop along the way to a “long-term housing pathway” for people who want to receive stabilization services before moving into their own unit.

In addition, the federal cash will expand the city’s capacity to engage with people living on the streets by funding an additional seven agencies to do that work. And it will further support agencies providing clinical and housing stabilization services to people already in homeless-dedicated housing.

Carolyn Ross is CEO of All Chicago Making Homelessness History, lead agency for the umbrella organization that wrote the city’s grant application.

“This is a pivotal moment for us. ... We will have more robust outreach teams with immediate access to triage or stabilization housing. And for some people who have experienced unsheltered homelessness, this triage housing with enhanced support services is a crucial and necessary step toward permanent housing,” Ross said.

“Our plans are ambitious. They require a high level of coordination and cooperation among many partners. We know from experience that such coordinated efforts ... lead to success. ... Coming up with an idea, then connecting resources — we housed 1,888 households in the last two years.”

A nationwide “point-in-time count” showed more than 520,000 people sleeping on the streets of major cities, and roughly 230,000 of them were unsheltered.

But with the pandemic, and average rents rising by $250 a month, unsheltered homeless numbers are certain to spike, Fudge said.

“A lot of those people are people you wouldn’t even imagine. People that look like me, my age, who can’t afford to live on Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid who barely get by. They can’t afford to live in these environments anymore — a city like Chicago, a city like New York or Los Angeles — because the rents are so incredibly high. So it is pushing people to the streets.”

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