By: Ashley Foster, Maeve Reynolds, and Egi Canie (Loyola)
There are more than 65,000 homeless people in Chicago.
That’s around the same population as the whole of Utica, New York, and it’s just a bit smaller than the population of Wilmington, the largest city in Delaware. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder some of the city government’s most common inquiries revolve around housing support.
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimated the number based on the 2020 census. 2020 was the peak of COVID and according to Alderwoman Maria Hadden of the 49th Ward, the pandemic led to a rapid increase of homelessness. Hadden experienced this homelessness crisis first hand in her constituency of Rogers Park.
“While we may be on the other side of COVID, we’re still experiencing the ripple effects of its devastation,” Hadden wrote in an email to RogersEdge Reporter. She said those ripple effects — such as unemployment, high rent and inflation — led to an increase in homelessness.
Last year, Hadden introduced a bill to Chicago’s City Council that would allocate additional revenue to combat homelessness. She also said she supported non-profit organization Northside Housing’s plan to open an emergency shelter in the former St. Francis Community Health Center (7465 N Clark Ave). Northside Housing is working with the city to acquire a special use permit to operate the shelter.
However, some Rogers Park residents voiced concern over the shelter possibly having a drop-in center, which they perceived as dangerous, according to CBS Chicago. Hadden said plans were modified so the new shelter would not have a drop-in center.
Residents voiced additional concerns at a community meeting held on October 3 to address the situation in Touhy park and the new shelter. Because of the explosion in homelessness, Touhy park, a longtime family recreational area located at 7348 N Paulina St. saw the formation of a large homeless encampment. This visibly growing tent city is one of the reasons public officials believe the new Northside Housing shelter will be greatly beneficial to Rogers Park residents.
Alderwoman Hadden organized a neighborhood meeting for residents to share their thoughts, ask their questions, and raise their concerns about the issues and proposed solutions.
Cynthia McFadden, a resident of 18 years said, “My concerns and my compassion are split. I want to do a reality check. Touhy park indicates an issue. I’d like to see the continued fundraising and caring actions but I’d also like to see us have some control as taxpayers.”
Dr. Edith Cheers, a resident of 51 years said, “I grew up in that area, I used to play over there, I’m just concerned. I don’t want to set up patterns and I don’t want to displace anybody, but my major question is are these people Rogers park residents?”
Despite resident’s concerns, professionals continue to reassure the community that the new shelter will improve current conditions. Shelters improve the safety of both individuals and their community, according to Nicole Schult, a lawyer and legal director at Uptown People’s Law Center (UPLC).
“Crime and desperation go hand in hand,” Schult said. “Any time people have a place to spend the night which is not on the streets of the city, the benefits are uncountable.”
Schult said the rise of homelessness is influenced by gentrification, or the process of wealthy people buying homes in predominantly poor neighborhoods.
“In the decade I have worked at UPLC, I have seen a dwindling amount of affordable or subsidized housing options in the Uptown neighborhood,” Schult said. She said studies show gentrification has a negative impact on education and health of poor and low-income families.
Hadden said her office is committed to a “community-driven process for decision-making.” She pointed to the three meetings her office has held over the past year for the issue of the shelter alone. She said residents have made it clear they want to be part of the solution.
Besides shelters, Hadden pointed to other resources in Rogers Park. A Just Harvest (7649 N Paulina St.) serves free hot meals and Care For Real (5339 N Sheridan Rd.) runs a pop-up food pantry at the United Church of Rogers Park.
The Night Ministry also has a street outreach program to provide people with medical care without them needing to go into a medical office. The program aims for all members of the Rogers Park community to have access to healthcare services.
Last year, Hadden introduced the Bring Chicago Home resolution to City Council which would allocate additional revenue to combat homelessness.