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Emanuel urges hospitals to bankroll preventive care for homeless

File photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday urged Chicago-area hospitals to bankroll preventive care for the chronically homeless who now often seek costlier, last-resort care at hospital emergency rooms.

Speaking to the Corporation for Supportive Housing’s second-annual national conference, Emanuel said hospitals are “on the front line of the homeless crisis whether they want it or not.”

The burgeoning problem of chronic homelessness is “filling up their emergency rooms,” leaving hospitals with a choice: “Either pay it from the emergency room or be on the front-line of a preventive form of health care,” the mayor said.

Emanuel noted that the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital recently made a three-year, $250,000-a-year commitment to the fight against homelessness.

Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita met Friday with 21 other hospitals and health care providers to challenge them to make a similar commitment, the mayor said. He called homelessness and the health care crisis “heads and tails of the same coin.”

Health Commissioner Julie Morita. |  File photo

Health Commissioner Julie Morita. | File photo

“They are addressing this problem today on their own in the most inefficient way you can do it and they know it because it’s in the emergency room. People today from tent cities, under viaducts and under highways show up in emergency rooms. That’s where they’re getting their health care. Just like people who don’t have health care went to emergency rooms for preventive health care,” the mayor said.

“It is too expensive at that door. If you get `em on the front end on the other door of the hospital, it is a lot better health care. It is preventive health care. It is long-term and short-term much more efficient. And it allows us as a city to be a community.”

Last month, Emanuel’s plan to slap a 4-percent surcharge on Airbnb to generate $2 million to combat chronic homelessness cleared one legislative hurdle but not another after the latest in a seemingly endless parade of changes failed to please both sides.

Since then, a top mayoral aide has threatened to cut off negotiations with Airbnb and push through a stricter version of the home-sharing ordinance proposed by a pair of aldermen after a trade group bankrolled by internet companies launched a “seven-figure” advertising campaign on radio and television.

On Friday, Emanuel flatly predicted that a divided City Council would approve the surcharge at its June 22 meeting.

“As we have a new, emerging industry, I want that industry to do well. But, I want it also to be a source for all people in Chicago. Even if you do not have a roof, you are a resident of Chicago. And they will become the source now. As this industry emerges — Airbnb — we will have a 4-percent surtax on the new industry to pay for homeless services and housing,” the mayor said, as the audience that filled a Marriott Hotel ballroom applauded.

Emanuel predicted that the home-sharing surcharge would become a “model” for other cities to follow in the fight against chronic homelessness.

“We all learn from each other. We copy each other, then call it an original idea. That’s what we do in public service,” the mayor said.

“A number of mayors are now looking at this. Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York. All cities are trying to grapple with the issue of homelessness and where do you find the revenue and the resources to address this problem? We have a novel idea in the city of Chicago.”

The home-sharing ordinance has set the stage for a sharing economy showdown similar to the one brewing between the taxicab industry and Uber and Lyft over a controversial plan to license ride-hailing drivers.

The Airbnb fight features, on one side, homeowners who say they want and need the right to supplement their incomes by listing their homes or rooms within their homes on Airbnb.

On the other side are high-rise residents whose say their quality of life has been greatly diminished by home-sharing invaders and the bachelor-party atmosphere they sometimes bring.