The process of renting an apartment or buying a home can be difficult enough. But individuals experiencing homelessness face an array of challenges when trying to find stable housing.
"There are some very common situations among the homeless population such as little or no income, a low credit score, an arrest record, or a history of evictions that complicate the process of finding housing," said Mirella Rodriguez, Case Manager at The Night Ministry.
Tanya Gassenheimer, Youth Health Attorney at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), said the conditions of homelessness bring many individuals into contact with law enforcement.
"Because a lot of youth and adults who are experiencing homelessness spend so much time outside, they tend to be more likely to have police give them citations for ordinance violations," she said.
As part of her work on the Health Outreach Bus, Rodriguez often helps clients obtain court records and connects them with legal services that can assist with expunging them.
Gassenheimer, who worked in the housing practice group at LAF—a Chicago-based legal clinic that works with individuals experiencing poverty—before joining CCH, said evictions can have long-lasting effects, even if an eviction case is settled in a tenant's favor.
"Once folks have evictions on their record, it's really difficult to get any landlord to agree to rent to them," she said. "Even if the eviction was dismissed, oftentimes for landlords, just seeing an eviction record can be a barrier."
Rodriguez said part of her job is to assist clients navigate the complex system of shelters, supportive housing, subsidized housing, and free market rentals.
An individual without a reliable income might stay in an emergency shelter while trying to secure an income through employment or government benefits, Rodriguez said. But living in a shelter can present its own set of complications.
"If they are working, they might not be able to get to the shelter at check-in time," she said. "Other clients don't feel safe because of bad experiences at shelters. In other cases, they may have to separate from a partner, spouse, or family member."
Rodriguez says an SRO (single-room occupancy) program that includes supportive services can be a good option for an individual who has a steady income but needs to build a credit score or balance out an eviction history.
"One of the biggest things that's helpful for clients is that I do find out about waiting lists for SROs and for low-income housing," she said, "but we need to move quickly because waiting lists often don't stay open for very long."
Rodriguez said she also does on-the-ground research for clients.
"If I'm in certain neighborhoods, and I see listing for an apartment, I'll take a picture and then contact the landlord to see what they require for an application," she said.