Latino homelessness populates Chicagoland
Latino homelessness in Chicago and surrounding suburbs has been growing at a rapid pace, and with the economic downfall, fewer individuals are able to find a job and get back on track.
The Council on Latino Homelessness and the Chicago Community Trust sponsored a one-day symposium on April 14 at the Federal Reserve Bank, 230 S. LaSalle St. The event was established in 2005 as a result of several community-based organizations that were concerned about the lack of support and knowledge of homeless Latinos within the Chicago metropolitan area.
Jim Lewis, senior program officer at the Chicago Community Trust, believes they want to make a special effort in the next few years to develop help for homeless Latinos in Chicago communities.
“The effort is a gradual process, we’re just ramping it up a little more than we have in the past,” Lewis said.
About 5 percent of the homeless population in Chicago is Latino, and it is the newest and largest growing population.
“It’s a community that doesn’t have as many long established social service agencies as some others do, and because of the language issue, it hasn’t necessarily been connected the same way as other populations have,” Lewis said.
Because of these challenges, the Chicago Community Trust wants to make decreasing Latino homelessness a priority.
In the midst of the economic crisis, more and more Latinos staying at the San Jose Obrero Mission in Pilsen are in even greater danger of long-term unemployment because, at any given time, 60 to 70 percent of the population can be undocumented, said Israel Vargas, executive director at San Jose Obrero Mission.
Counts of the Latino homeless population are inaccurate, Vargas said, because many Latino families who live with other relatives will not admit they are homeless.
“We need to understand the population,” Vargas said. “This means you will know how to address them, how to talk to them and how to sit down with them.”
Once all the data is gathered, the actual number of homeless Latinos living in these communities can be posted, and only then can action be taken to minimize the count.
Federal and city funds have helped establish some of these centers. The amount of funds received is welcomed by Vargas, but it’s not enough to lower the count.
“The government wants to capture certain things in order to show that this money is going towards good causes,” Vargas said. “But if I can’t provide a social security number for a person or family because they don’t have it, I can’t help them with that money.”
Some of the members of these centers are undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Many have come here illegally looking for work, and others came here on visas and overstayed their welcome.
“A lot of Latinos actually get help from their families, who may or may not be in position to help them but they do it anyway,” Lewis said.
Getting help from family members is not the best solution because the actual number of homeless Latinos is not counted.
According to the Council of Latino Homelessness, 37 percent of foreign-born Latino households live in crowded conditions, compared to 12 percent of their foreign-born counterparts.
The economic troubles not only raised unemployment, but it lowered the amount of funding some of these social service agencies received from supporting foundations. Like a domino effect, the less support the organizations have, the less they can give to the Latino communities.