Chicago to work with Biden administration on plan to fight homelessness

·3 min read

The White House on Thursday announced a two-year, multiagency federal partnership with Chicago aimed at curbing unsheltered homelessness, placing a federal official within city government to organize response plans and help coordinate sources for additional federal funding.

Chicago was one of six locations selected for the “ALL INside” program, an offshoot of President Joe Biden’s December federal strategic plan aimed at reducing homelessness nationally by 25% by 2025.

The new program is focused on finding housing for those who are unsheltered — people who live on the street and in cars, transit and other places not meant for habitation. Also selected to be part of the federal program were Dallas, Los Angeles, the Phoenix metro area, Seattle and the state of California.

Susan Rice, Biden’s domestic policy adviser, said the program will attempt to coordinate federal efforts through the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which includes 19 different agencies, with existing municipal agencies and homeless prevention advocacy groups.

In Chicago, the program will involve the existing interagency task force to reduce homelessness, the Department of Family & Support Services and All Chicago Making Homelessness History, an organization that offers emergency financial assistance, community partnerships, data analytics and training, city officials said.

The new program comes on the heels of a February announcement that Chicago received a $60 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to fight homelessness.

A 2020 report from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said there were more than 60,000 people who experienced homelessness in the city, though it was not immediately clear how many would be classified as unsheltered. Nationally, as of last year, 580,000 people were considered homeless, with 40% of them classified as unsheltered.

No additional federal funding was detailed for the program announced Thursday.

Jennifer Johnson, deputy mayor of education, youth and human services, said the city wanted to work with the federal government “to advocate and explore for additional federal funding.”

Federal officials also stressed that helping municipalities negotiate the maze of potential federal funding streams was part of the program’s goal.

Johnson told Rice and other federal and local officials at a virtual White House conference that while the numbers of unsheltered people in Chicago have not increased, even during the pandemic, they have become much more visible on Chicago Transit Authority rail lines.

The CTA has earmarked $2 million to expand outreach efforts on the Red Line and Blue Line with trained workers who provide food, referrals to mental health services, detoxification support and assessments to connect people to housing services, Johnson said.

Johnson also said the city Department of Aviation has increased funding for outreach and support at the Blue Line terminal at O’Hare International Airport while the city’s Department of Public Health has launched a two-day-a-week program at CTA terminal stations for outreach and medical care.

“The plight of these residents on trains is very, very real. Based on our outreach data, the most common unhoused passengers are unsheltered Black men, ages 30 to 51,” Johnson said. “Homelessness, especially unsheltered homelessness, disproportionately affects Black residents in Chicago, so this is a racial justice issue.”

City officials also said the program will focus on pathways for people leaving jail or prison and those with arrest or conviction records, and people facing safety issues near highways and under viaducts — to divert them to safer places for shelter, while efficiently providing documentation and identification for people to get access and benefits.

Tribune reporter Lizzie Kane contributed.