Struggle to survive

By Gregory Cappis

The streets of metropolitan Chicago will be home to thousands of extra people this winter because of state budget cuts.

In 2010, shelters were forced to turn away approximately 45,000 individuals, according to Lynda Schueler, executive director of the shelter West Suburban Pads, 1851 S. 9th Ave, Maywood. She estimated that an additional 6,700 people will be

denied service this year by homeless shelters, causing them to take refuge in alleys, abandoned buildings and forest preserves during the upcoming winter, which is predicted to be harsher than average.

The state has cut 52 percent from the $9.1 million budget for homeless shelters across the state. This cut took $40,000 away from West Suburban Pads, which is normally open eight months per year.

“Our board [of directors] voted to delay the opening of our shelter by two weeks,” Schueler said. “An estimated 90 people could have been served during that two-week period we were closed.”

The cuts are also forcing shelters to lay off staff members. People working at homeless shelters could find themselves seeking the services they currently provide, according to Abdullah Hassan, interim CEO of Inner Voice, an organization dedicated to helping the homeless.

“Many of the staff that provides services and resources are themselves at risk of becoming unemployed or homeless if the cuts are not restored,” Hassan said.

The winter months are expected to be more brutal than ever to the 50,000-plus people forced to spend the night on cold streets. City temperatures are expected to be colder than average, and more snow is in the forecast, according to a report


“People in Chicago are going to want to move after this winter,” said meteorologist Josh Nagelberg in the report.

In order to keep people out of the cold, advocates for the homeless proposed that the state take the $4.1 million allocated for horse breeders to cover the cuts to shelters receiving state funds. They implied the lives of humans should be a higher priority than those of animals.

The $4.7 million-dollar reduction to shelters is more than half of the $9.1 million they were to receive. This is a very disproportionate reduction, said Daria Miller, of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She said she understands that cuts must be made across the board, but she said that most other service categories are only seeing decreases of a single percentage point.

Advocates held a press conference on Oct. 24 inside the Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., to call for the state not to make cuts that would cripple an already overburdened system. The lack of funds would force shelters to choose between maintaining the cleanliness of facilities and opening up beds for the homeless.

Charles Austin, who identified himself as a pastor, is one of the people who might not have a bed in the future. Because of a recent job loss, he is being forced to stay at the Yana House, 7120 S. Normal Blvd. Although he is going through a difficult time, the altruist inside him is more worried about the well-being of others.

“I’m a little better off than others because I have a little education and work experience,” Austin said. “What about the people [who] don’t, [who] have no employment experience, [who] don’t have high school diplomas? Where are they supposed to turn in this system?”

Austin said he is very grateful for organizations like the Yana House because they provide food and shelter and help residents find employment. He said the shelter provides employment training, education and transportation to job interviews.

Miller would like to see the state give the necessary funds back to shelters so that thousands of people like Austin will have a warm place to stay.

“We are here today to make that call to action,” Miller said. “To ask our state legislature to do the right thing, to do what’s humane, to do what’s just and to not allow this number of people to go homeless on the street.”