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Ongoing budget impasse threatens help for the homeless, advocates say

Protesters gathered outside the Thompson Center Wednesday, saying the ongoing state budget battle threatens funding for homeless shelters. | Patrick Judge/For the Sun-Times

Youth and staff from the Ujima Village homeless shelter were among about 75 demonstrators who rallied Wednesday morning outside the Thompson Center, calling for Gov. Bruce Rauner to end the budget stalemate.

Representatives of a dozen advocate groups said programs to help homeless youth have suffered because of the Illinois Legislature’s failure to pass a budget.

The rally was organized by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

“I think the state of Illinois, and Governor Rauner, and the government have many public sins to atone for today,” said Flora Koppel, executive director of Unity Parenting & Counseling Center.

“Cutting a budget, delaying a budget — that causes neglect to the most vulnerable individuals and families, including and especially homeless youth. That is something that requires atonement.”

Among other services and shelters, Unity Parenting operates the homeless shelter Ujima Village, 500 E. 37th St., which every night houses up to 24 people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Without a working budget, Unity Parenting is cut off from $500,000 in state funding — nearly 15 percent of its annual operating costs. Ujima Shelter has enough funds to last the year, but could close Dec. 31, staffers said.

“You can’t cut the food in half,” said A. Anne Holcomb, a member of Ujima Shelter staff. “We’ve cut it as far as we could cut. . . . We’re not King Solomon.”

According to a report prepared by the homeless coalition, the budget crisis will soon force or already has forced 90 percent of the homeless agencies surveyed to deny assistance to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

After the rally, four demonstrators delivered a cardboard box decorated by homeless youth to the governor’s Thompson Center office, where they shared their stories with members of the governor’s staff.