Chicago homelessness services gear up for winter


Nadia Hernandez

The Lincoln Park Community Services building is located off the Sedgwick stop on the Brown and Purple lines.

With winter quickly approaching, homeless Chicagoans will once again be subjected to the city’s infamous cold weather. The looming presence of Covid-19 only complicates this, as the health and economic woes of the pandemic continue to affect society’s most vulnerable.

It doesn’t help that Chicago has such limited resources when it comes to assisting the homeless. Marisa Novara, commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Housing, told the Chicago Tribune that the city is approximately 120,000 units short of affordable housing than it needs.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s 2022 budget included record funding to provide housing assistance to those in the city experiencing homelessness. The plan will be the largest investment addressing homelessness in Chicago’s history and will receive federal funding from the American Rescue Plan.

“In response to the pandemic, there is unprecedented federal funding available to address homelessness,” wrote Molly Brown in an email to The DePaulia. Brown is a professor of clinical-community psychology at DePaul University, and director of the Homeless Advocacy, Research, and Collaboration Lab.

But this money won’t last forever. As federal Covid-19 stimulus programs like the American Rescue Plan expire, cities like Chicago will soon be back to tackling issues like homelessness mostly on their own. This means that homeless Chicagoans will rely even more on local organizations for solutions.

One of those organizations is the Lincoln Park Community Services (LPCS). LPCS provides food, internet, counseling, clothing and interim and permanent housing to individuals experiencing homelessness throughout Chicago’s North Side. Their CEO, Cheryl Hamilton-Hill, explained how difficult the city’s extreme weather can be for those without shelter.

“Even though it’s a critical traumatic experience for [the homeless] every single day, when you think about extreme heat or blistering cold, those are tough times for anyone,” Hamilton-Hill told The DePaulia. “We just try to get their basic needs met.”

Hamilton-Hill explained that, because of the pandemic’s economic strain and social distancing requirements, Covid-19 made services like those offered by LPCS more necessary than ever.

“The challenge came when we had to not only figure out how to serve more individuals, but do it in a safe, socially-distanced manner,” Hamilton-Hill said. “Because of the support of the community, we were able to expand our services, help more individuals, but still keep them safe …Through the end of the summer, we had not one of our guests contract Covid-19.”

Shelter services like LPCS are critical in the local effort to assist Chicago’s homeless population. Providing material goods and services to those experiencing homelessness is immensely beneficial to the community, particularly with the cold winter months rapidly approaching.

But the homeless face more challenges than just the weather, explained Lydia Stazen, executive director of the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH).

“People who are experiencing homelessness in Chicago face challenges all year round,” Stazen said. “Those challenges are really centered around ease of access: knowing where to go for help, and knowing what services are available for them.”

The IGH is an organization housed at and partnered with DePaul University. The IGH tackles the issue of homelessness from a policy perspective, advocating for programs to end homelessness and helping to improve existing services through education.

“Covid has really impacted our ability, particularly here in Chicago, to provide some of the normal training and support that we usually would,” Stazen said.

Despite this, the IGH has continued its advocacy by working closely with groups such as the United Nations to promote policies on behalf of the world’s homeless population.

Groups such as the IGH and LPCS may approach assisting the homeless in vastly different ways, but their overarching goal remains the same: to end homelessness in Chicago and abroad. While this may sound like wishful thinking, Brown explained that there is more than enough space and resources to do it effectively.

“Homelessness is a complex, but not impossible, social problem that has gone unsolved due to a lack of political will,” Brown wrote. “The City of Chicago can prevent and address homelessness by directing resources and policies to ensure low-or no-income individuals have permanent access to affordable housing.”

In fact, this was precisely what was recommended by both Stazen and Hamilton-Hill when asked how to best reduce homelessness in Chicago.

“It is also important to recognize that we don’t have enough affordable housing, particularly here in Chicago,” Hamilton-Hill said. “It’s very important to make sure that there are opportunities to find affordable housing.”

Stazen agrees, citing Chicago’s massive shortage of affordable housing.

“There’s lots of apartments that you can rent in the free market side of the housing spectrum,” Stazen said. “But there are not enough units set aside for affordable housing. There are not enough units set aside for subsidized housing.”