Illinois lawmakers, advocates contemplate how federal dollars could help the homeless

Illinois lawmakers, advocates contemplate how federal dollars could help the homeless
Illinois lawmakers, advocates contemplate how federal dollars could help the homeless(Gray TV Illinois Capitol Bureau)
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 7:15 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WIFR) - State lawmakers passed a massive rental assistance plan earlier this year to help people struggling to pay rent during the pandemic. That program is now in place, but lawmakers don’t want to forget about the homeless.

Throughout this month, a Housing Committee is discussing ways to use remaining federal dollars to help people most in need.

The temperature is quickly getting colder and more than 10,000 people are homeless in Illinois. Representatives hope they can work on a plan to get these people in shelters soon.

This pandemic has damaged so many lives with people contracting COVID-19, being laid off from work, and losing their homes.

However, advocates and providers say emergency housing facilities faced a lack of resources well before the pandemic started. Like many social services in Illinois, the system couldn’t handle the demand.

Advocates told Housing Committee members Tuesday that providers clearly need funding to prevent eviction. But, they also stressed that the state should invest in shelters and emergency housing. They hope to have funds left over to cover housing placement as well.

“People had the dignity of their own space”

Many church-based shelters across the state closed and money from the federal CARES Act helped pay for hotel rooms last year. Housing providers noted that Illinois still lacks volunteers and local spaces for emergency housing. Most organizations found that hotel-style accommodations became the best option to keep people safe last winter.

“They were able to reach people who they weren’t able to before because people had the dignity of their own space. They’re able to not have to be in crisis mode so much,” said Meredith Montgomery, Policy Coordinator for the Supportive Housing Providers Association. “They could focus on housing.”

Other advocates said people in Central and Southern Illinois also struggle with homelessness. Unfortunately, there are very few emergency shelters in rural areas.

Advocates said nearly twice as many families find themselves at risk of homelessness now compared to this time last year.

The Supportive Housing Providers Association wants to prioritize resources to create 3,330 emergency housing beds and renovate existing facilities across the state. While lawmakers are considering all options, they want to ensure Illinois uses the remaining money from the American Rescue Plan wisely.

Winter is coming and people need shelter

“We don’t want to commit one-time dollars to things that are going to need sustainable investments,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago). “Instead, we’re looking for ways to use this ARP money for a one-time upfront investment that can really create long-term, lasting, sustainable change.”

That’s why lawmakers hope they can put money towards emergency housing as soon as possible.

“I also have major concerns that the diminished emergency shelter capacity is a huge problem. And people are going to die this winter,” said Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago).

LaPointe later suggested that hospital emergency rooms should have a pipeline to help homeless people with high medical needs. She feels putting ARPA funds towards that cause could help the most vulnerable receive more permanent supportive housing.

Rep. Denyse Stoneback (D-Skokie) also said Illinois could try a transitional shelter model that several other states found successful.

Advocates want to connect housing authorities with individuals who need long-term housing support. Some noted that people could go through different interventions, but the first step is getting everyone into housing.

This committee plans to meet again in two weeks to talk about homeownership. They’ll also meet on November 30 to discuss barriers to housing.

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