Overview of Homelessness in Chicago
Thanks to Kavitha Selvaraj
In 2001, the Chicago Food Depository conducted extensive research in conjunction with America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization. This report summarizes the results for Cook County, the Food Depository's service territory. These results parallel the national findings presented in "Hunger in America 2001", which reported that an estimated 23.3 million people, including more than nine million children, rely on food and grocery assistance provided by network food banks and food rescue organizations. The next Hunger in America study will be conducted in 2005, with publication expected by year's end. The Food Depository had three main objectives in the 2001 study: to quantify the impact that the Food Depository has on feeding hungry people; to develop a profile of the people who receive food; and to show the trends in emergency food assistance.
What does Food Depository food mean to its 600 member agencies?
The loss of Food Depository food would adversely affect 91.7 percent of pantries, 83.2 percent of soup kitchens and 86.4 percent of shelters that are member agencies of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. • 62 percent of pantries said the loss of Food Depository food would be devastating; 29.7 percent said the loss would have a significant impact. • 61.9 percent of soup kitchens said the loss of Food Depository food would be devastating; 21.3 percent said the loss would have a significant impact. • 44.3 percent of shelters said the loss of Food Depository food would be devastating; 42.1 percent said the loss would have a significant impact. • 54.8 percent of the food pantries distribute, 40.5 percent of the food soup kitchens serve and 53.9 percent of the food shelters serve are provided by the Food Depository.
Increasing need 68.4 percent of pantries, 69.1 percent of soup kitchens and 52.1 percent of shelters indicate they serve more people now than they did in 1998.
What does hunger look like?
Annually, 309,655 different people rely on emergency feeding programs served by the Food Depository. • 36.7 percent are children under 18 years old (6.9 percent are children 5 years old or younger) • 7.7 percent are age 65 and older • 78.8 percent had incomes below the official federal poverty level • 21.8 percent of all adult clients are homeless • 27.9 percent of households have one or more member in poor health • 31.7 percent of households include at least one employed adult • 51.6 percent are female • 48.4 percent are male • 67.7 percent are African-American • 22.2 percent are white • 8.0 percent are Hispanic • 3.7 percent are American Indian or Alaskan Native
Information adapted from the National Hunger Study 2001.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In one year, about 166,000 people experience homelessness in the Chicago Metropolitan area.
166,000 people??? That's nearly 37 times the undergraduate U of C population!
So, here's the million dollar question: WHAT CAUSES HOMELESSNESS?
We go to the U of C. We like statistics. We want to know the cause of a problem, and we want to fix it. Unfortunately, the causes of homelessness are multiple and complex. People tend to blame it on personal issues (alcoholism, for example), but it's important to remember that PERSONAL PROBLEMS ALONE DO NOT CAUSE HOMELESSNESS. Many people are at a disadvantage because there is inequity is built right into our economic and political systems, which therefore fail to promote justice and equality.
A partial list of societal/institutional causes of homelessness:
- 1. Lack of Affordable Housing *Nearly one-third of Chicago renters were paying more than 35 percent of their income for housing in 2000; another 20 percent were paying more than half. *Compared with Boston, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC, Chicago saw the highest percentage change in median rent (28 percent) from 1990 to 2000. *Compared to 10 other major U.S. cities, Chicago had the lowest percentage increase (8 percent) in rental units between 1970 and 2000, which is less than half of the next lowest ranking city, New York (19 percent).
- 2. Lack of Living Wage Jobs *According to a recent study conducted by local universities, 75 percent of the city's working-poor families earned less than $13,001, yet a family of one adult and two children would need to earn $38,281 a year to pay for all their living expenses without any government assistance. *One of every two workers nationally does not find a job by the time unemployment insurance runs out. 24 *Women make 76 cents for every dollar that men earn. African American women earn 65 percent and Latina women earn just 55 percent for every dollar their male counterparts earn.
- 3. Lack of Health Care and Supportive Services (especially with Mental Health/Substance Abuse) *In 2003, 80 percent of people without health coverage were working families. *People with serious mental illnesses are overrepresented among the homeless population. Although only 4 percent of the U.S. population has a serious mental illness, five to six times as many people who are homeless (20-25 percent) have serious mental illnesses. *Substance abusers account for an estimated 30 percent of homeless people.
- 4. Latino Homelessness Twenty-four percent of Latino families live below the poverty level and on average spend 59 percent of their income for rent. Many primarily Latino communities such as Logan Square and Humboldt Park are rapidly gentrifying, pushing Latino families out. Because Latino families often live in extremely overcrowded conditions before resorting to the shelter system, they tend to be underrepre-sented in counts of homeless people on the street or in shelters.
- 5. Prison Release Every day, people are released from prison without a place to live. Reentry without adequate discharge planning can lead to devastating consequences, including homelessness. In 2003, 34,491 individuals were released in Illinois alone. 50 The majority of formerly incarcerated individuals are released without savings or immediate benefits and may experience interruptions in mental health or substance abuse treatment.
- 6. Veteran Issues As many as 18,000 veterans are estimated to experience homelessness every night in the six counties of the Chicago metropolitan area. The vast majority of homeless veterans (76%) suffer from drug, alcohol, or mental health problems or some combination of these issues. Programs serving homeless veterans are consistently under-funded. In Illinois, only 158 beds funded through the VA's Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program are available for almost 20,000 homeless veterans.
- 7. Domestic Violence Women who find themselves in domestic violence situations often need to flee quickly from their abuser. However, many become so isolated that they have nowhere to turn after they escape the abuse. Consequently, many victims of domestic violence end up homeless. With a severe shortage of available beds in shelters, (only 154 domestic violence shelter beds in Chicago) many women face a choice of going back to their abuser or living on the streets. Further complicating matters, many landlords have adopted "zero tolerance for crime" policies that punish tenants when violence occurs in their homes, regardless of whether the tenant is the victim or the perpetrator.
- 8. Youth Homelessness An estimated 26,000 youth experience homelessness in Illinois over the course of a year. Youth become homeless for a variety of reasons, including family conflict over sexual orientation, school, sexual activity, drug or alcohol use, and pregnancy. Rates of suicide, substance abuse, HIV, survival sex (sex for money, shelter, or food), anxiety and conduct disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are significantly higher for homeless and runaway youth than for nonhomeless youth.
That's a pretty diverse list. With all of these different causes, it makes you wonder WHO is victim to these social inequities.
In other words: WHAT DOES THE TYPICAL HOMELESS PERSON IN CHICAGO LOOK LIKE?
Family Status: 36.1% Single Men, 28.4% Families, 35.5% Single Women, 3.5% Youth Racially: 77% African American, 12% White, 9% Latino, 1% Native American, 1% Asian Nationally, 50% of homeless people are African American, compared to 77% in Chicago.
Well, if you've read through this, you're probably wondering this question: WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?????? I'm so glad you asked. Get involved with the Giving Tree. We focus on all aspects of hunger & homelessness: education/awareness, direct service, and activism. Check your inboxes for emails on events & service opportunities right here on the U of C campus.
Information was adapted from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless webpage.