Westchester-based group keeps count of suburban homeless
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:05AM
The suburban Cook County agency that monitors the homeless employed a deeper survey tool this year to help house the most unprotected.
The Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, Westchester, conducted its bi-yearly Point in Time homeless count Jan. 24-26.
Added to the usual survey that collects basic demographics, the agency also asked for phone numbers, emergency contacts and took photographs of the unsheltered homeless.
The new survey approach, called the 100,000 Homes Campaign, is a national movement of communities finding permanent homes for unsheltered people.
So far, 100,000 Homes have housed 28,400 people, according to the nonprofit Community Solutions that oversees the campaign.
Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County said the survey also asked health-related questions.
“Research has shown that certain factors can lead to dying on the streets, such as frostbite and hypothermia,” she said, explaining the survey also scores a person’s risk level for morbidity.
“We collect this information and then line up housing with these most vulnerable of people in mind.
“Faceless numbers may be helpful in the abstract, but this campaign puts names on faces,” she said.
Jake Maquire, spokesman for Community Solutions, said repeated studies over the last 10 years found that permanent housing is less expensive to taxpayers than chronic homelessness.
“The cost of permanent housing is much cheaper than paying for the homeless in emergency rooms, shelters, jails and for psychiatric care. The savings are $20,000-$30,000 per homeless person,” he said.
In 2010, following a significant increase in national homeless when the economy fell, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness came up with Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness 2010.
“This was President Obama’s plan to end homeless. It was the first time the federal government had such a plan,” Hill said.
The program, she explained, set targets to end homeless for military veterans, the chronic homeless, families and children over the next five to 10 years.
The objectives of Opening Doors are to increase civic leadership, affordable housing and economic security for the homeless, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless.
In responding to homelessness more quickly, Opening Doors also integrated primary and behavioral health care services into basic homeless assistance programs.
The Alliance to End Homelessness conducts the counts every two years in the north, northwest, west and south suburbs, in areas where the most homeless live. This is done to receive important funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“HUD wants to see the extent of homelessness in an area. The Alliance to End Homeless is the umbrella group that coordinates services for the homeless,” said Brady, also Illinois board president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
“Thirty percent of the chronically-homeless have some sort of mental illness. They have trouble getting jobs and end up homeless,” said Brady, of Inverness.
Volunteers participating in the count are trained to deal with the homeless in areas such as maintaining their respect and privacy and telling them about local programs for the homeless.
Volunteers typically spend three to four hours a night visiting homeless “hot spots” in forest preserves, abandoned buildings, all-night diners, public toilets, laundry mats and train stations — anywhere the unhoused find shelter.
Count results will be published within four to five months, but a survey debriefing meeting is 8 a.m. Feb. 8 at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood.
Homeless shelters are included in the count, but volunteers do not visit them because the men, woman and children there have already registered.
The Alliance also asks public libraries, churches, municipalities and school liason officers, who work with students of homeless families, for reports of homelesss people they know of to tally in the count.
In addition, Catholic Charities helps with the count by keeping track of people who attend its community dinner every Tuesday and Thursday.
In the 2011 count, homeless children and adults in suburban Cook County had dropped nearly 13 percent since 2007, going from 1,237 to 1,080 — or 157 less.
The turnaround, said homeless shelter supervisors, started in 2009 when federal dollars to prevent homelessness flowed in.
For example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — also called the federal stimulus — gave homeless prevention centers around the country part of $1.5 billion.