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Faith In Homeless Pilot Program Runs Out After Only 18 Housed

By Josh McGhee | August 3, 2016 5:51am
 The Homeless Task Force pilot program aimed to house 75 people in 60-90 days.
The Homeless Task Force pilot program aimed to house 75 people in 60-90 days.
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DNAinfo/Josh McGhee

UPTOWN — Latia Crockett-Holder has been homeless since she was 19, but when she received housing through the Homeless Task Force's Pilot Program, she immediately felt duped once again.

Holder said she didn't even spend a night at Northmere the SRO, a Single Room Occupancy building at 4943 N. Kenmore Ave., before giving up the housing to return to the viaduct at Lake Shore Drive and Lawrence Avenue.

"Do not sit there and lie to people and tell them you're going to find them housing and send them to an SRO," said Holder, charging that the program, which aims to find permanent housing for 75 people currently living under the viaducts, was not as promised. "They lied to so many people. They don't even know they're in their permanent housing."

Although the city says some residents were given temporary housing while a permanent solution could be located, Holder said the room in the SRO she was given was far from permanent and also had bed bugs. Staying there would have forced her to be away from her family, Holder said. Holder also said she didn't get any help finding a job.

When the pilot program was launched in April, it set a goal to find permanent housing for 75 individuals it categorized as chronically homeless who were living under viaducts on the North Side. The housing was supposed to be provided within 60 to 90 days, but at the end of July the program had housed only 18 individuals "with more eligible and ready to be housed in the coming weeks," according to Jennifer Rottner, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

"Our goal is to build a system in Chicago where episodes of homelessness, when they occur in an individual’s life, are rare and brief. However, we do not expect a single pilot program to end homelessness nor can we promise that there will never again be homeless individuals living under the viaducts," Rottner said.

While the list began at 75 people, 11 people are now considered "inactive" and no longer in need of city assistance to gain housing. That could be because they moved out of the city or because they are no longer in contact with their outreach worker, Rottner said.

"This means that a third of the individuals identified through the pilot have left the viaducts, and the focus is now on the 46 residents remaining to be connected with permanent housing," Rottner said via email.

While the list may be getting shorter for the pilot program, the viaducts are still as crowded or possibly more crowded then when the program began.

Late last week, DNAinfo counted about 24 tents at the Lawrence viaduct. At the Wilson Avenue viaduct, another 25 tents remain, but residents said about 60 people now live under the viaducts including couples and families, who usually live in bigger tents.

"The pilot program is bull----. They promised 75 people and got 18 people housing. That's why they call it a pilot program because it's B.S.," said Robert, who lives under the Wilson viaduct and said he has seen only one person housed through the program.

For Micah Davis, who's lived under the bridge for about six months, said, "They always say what they're going to do and don't do it."

"They see us as dogs ... anyone under the bridge whether you're good or bad, but if it wasn't for the people under here I'd be messed up," he said. "If they were trying to get us housing, why is it taking so long?"

One reason for the delays is because the city believes providing a place to live in a neighborhood where participants have asked to be relocated is "paramount", Rottner said.

"We are doing our best to ensure that residents are housed in an area they want to be in. Sometimes, this component of the process takes a little longer, if there is a lack of housing units on the market in that particular area," she said.

While the Department of Family and Support Services works to secure housing for the individuals, officials have been using "bridge housing units," which are typically furnished SROs located on the North Side, she said.

"While the matching process is underway, the City is utilizing bridge units to provide clients with safe housing options while we coordinate a permanent place that will meet their needs and preferences, and, most importantly, give them a lasting place to call home," said Rottner, adding the temporary units allow the client to move from the viaducts as they find housing that fits the clients' needs for bedrooms, affordability and wrap-around services.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also begun engaging landlords and asking them to "self-identify when they have units available to house clients," she said.

The pilot housing program will conclude when all active pilot participants have been housed, Rottner said.

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