Some people believe that homelessness is a choice. It is not.
As Street Medicine Case Manager Sylvia Hibbard says, “Housing fulfills so many of our basic needs. It gives us safety, stability and so much more. Who would choose not to have their needs fulfilled? Who would choose not to have housing?”
Homelessness is caused by a complex web of factors. These include systemic injustices and structural failures like racial inequality, lack of affordable housing and an undersupply of jobs that pay a living wage. Personal circumstances such as health care challenges, domestic violence or conflict at home also play a role in someone not having housing.
Like our other Case Managers at The Night Ministry, Sylvia works to connect individuals who do not have a permanent place to live with improved housing. She helps them apply for housing programs. She accompanies clients to government offices to obtain documents like their birth certificate and social security card, which are required when housing opportunities come through. On move-in day Sylvia brings food and household necessities and introduces clients to resources in their neighborhoods.
Sylvia and her fellow Case Managers with the Health Outreach Bus and our CTA outreach program engaged more than 1,360 individuals in the process of securing more stable housing last year. In total, The Night Ministry helped 156 unhoused young people and adults improve their housing situation last year.
You might hear it said that unhoused people just need to get a job. In fact, many are employed.
Ask Anthony Monterroso, Youth Diversion Specialist at The Night Ministry.
“Every single young person who I have worked with has a desire to be productive. For some, that means finding a job. For others, it’s going to school to build the foundation for a career. There is aways that desire to find a way to support yourself.”
A 2021 University of Chicago study estimated that more than 50% of individuals living in shelters were employed. But finding and maintaining steady employment can be extremely difficult when you do not have a permanent place to live. Unhoused workers and job seekers may face challenges with transportation or because they don't have a regular place to shower and wash their clothes, for example. Employment alone, however, does not resolve homelessness. Many jobs just don’t pay enough to sustain a household. In the metro Chicago area, the hourly wage to afford a fair market studio apartment is $20.37, which is $7 an hour higher than Cook County's minimum wage.
The Night Ministry helps unhoused individuals address barriers they face to securing employment. In our Youth Housing Programs, professionals like Anthony help residents obtain a state ID card and other documents required to work. Simply having the address of one of our shelter locations to put down on a job application makes a difference. Providing a more stable living situation where young people can get rest, wash clothes and shower also helps them in seeking and maintaining employment. In addition, Anthony and his colleagues share job leads with young people, coach them in how to apply for jobs and connect them with job training programs.
Nearly 80% of young people served by our Interim and Transitional Living Programs set at least one vocational goal with our staff last year. And 73 young people served by The Night Ministry last year were employed, including 43 who secured a job while receiving support from us.
In fact, most people experiencing homelessness met their housing needs by staying temporarily with family, friends, or acquaintances. This is often referred to as doubled-up homelessness.
As Faith Miller, Outreach Services Manager at The Night Ministry says, “Many of the people we serve at the Heath Outreach Bus are doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled up. This means that several individuals or families are sharing a living arrangement with others because they cannot afford their own housing.”
According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, in 2020 more than 75% of unhoused Chicago residents were staying temporarily with others. As doubled-up individuals or families are not on a lease or do not own the housing in which they are staying, these living arrangements tend to be impermanent. Common challenges in doubled-up situations include overcrowding, a lack of privacy and interpersonal tensions among the occupants of a residence. Unfortunately, those who are in doubled-up situations do not qualify for some federally funded programs meant to assist individuals and families experiencing homelessness. That’s because the definition of homelessness used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development excludes this type of homelessness.
The Night Ministry is able to serve young people who are doubled-up. Because of diverse funding sources, our Youth Housing Programs offer a pathway to greater stability for doubled-up young people, as well as youth experiencing other forms of homelessness. Last year, we provided housing and other critical services to 579 young people.
At the Health Outreach Bus, where many of the individuals and families we serve are doubled-up, Faith and her colleagues support clients in finding greater stability by providing case management services along with free health care, food, and other resources. Last year, we served approximately 4,000 individuals at the Bus.