How can we help the homeless in Chicago

According to the “2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress” from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), almost 600,000 people are homeless in America, based on a given night count. Sadly, 23% of them are children. 64% experienced homelessness as individuals and 36% as families with children. 69% of them stay in homeless residential programs, and the rest are in unsheltered conditions. In the case of Chicago, almost 7,000 people where found in sheltered and unsheltered conditions during that single night count. But this is only a small part of the whole problem, since people who live on the street are more visible than other type of homeless which are the vast majority. The HUD defines homeless as “individuals and families who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence and includes a subset for an individual who is exiting an institution where he or she resided for 90 days or less and who resided in an emergency shelter or a place not meant for human habitation immediately before entering that institution”. As we can read, homeless definition by the federal government doesn’t cover some aspects of real life, especially when tough economic times make people look for unconventional solutions.

In the city of Chicago, it is a hard reality for those couch-surfing and living with family and friends. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless says more than 130,000 people face this condition. From the point of view of experts, homelessness is consequence of low wages and affordable housing, in other words, an economic problem. We can see the situation more clearly in terms of numbers. The National Low Income Housing Coalition in the “2015 Out of Reach report” calculates the Illinois housing wage as $18.78 an hour. This is based on Fair Market Rent (FMR) of $997/month for a 2-bedroom apartment in Illinois. This number assumes a 40-hour work week for 52 weeks a year. For someone to afford this level of income (without paying more than 30% of income on housing), a household must earn $39,067 annually. With the Illinois minimum wage at $8.25 an hour, a worker must work 91 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Let’s say it clearly: low income workers can’t afford to live in the cities they have their jobs.

homeless in chicago_yosef meystel_Community benefits Chicago

Image courtesy of southie3 at

Facts about homelessness we are probably not aware of

  • Severe untreated mental illness is found in 20% of homeless. In the case of general population of America, only 6% suffer from the same condition.
  • 11% homeless adults is a veteran. According to HUD, more than 47,000 veterans are homeless, 34% of them, in unsheltered conditions.
  • The leading cause of homelessness among women is domestic violence, as the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) says. Severe physical or sexual abuse is claimed to be the reason of escaping in more than 90% of the cases.
  • Since 2001, 14% of the U.S. supply of low-income housing has been lost, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Additionally, more than 5,000 homes have been foreclosed on since 2008, which means 10% of homes with a mortgage. And this is another hidden cause of homelessness.
  • The NLCHP found that 18% cities make it a crime to sleep in public and 43% to sleep in your car. Cities make homelessness crime.

5 Charities working with homeless in Chicago

1. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (70 East Lake Street Suite 720, ph. 312-641-4140)

This is the leader non-profit organization dedicated to advocate preventing and ending homelessness since its starting in 1980. CCH programs are oriented to help people facing extreme poverty, prevent them to live on the streets and help those who are already homeless. For the CCH, “housing is a human right in a just society.”

2. The Ark (6450 North California Ave, ph. 773-973-1000)

The mission of this non-profit organization is to provide vital human services within a framework of Jewish values for homeless families and individuals. They offer up to 120 days of housing, kosher food and a complete array of supportive services for those in need.  

3. A Safe Haven Foundation for Women and Children (2750 W Roosevelt Road, ph. 773-435-8300)

This non-profit organization is funded by public, privates and individuals aiming to provide housing and support based on individual assessments for men, women, women with children and veterans. They also offer rehab programs.

4. Deborah’s Place (2822 W. Jackson Blvd., ph. 773-722-5080)

This non-profit organization aims to break the cycle of homelessness for women in the city. They plan programs oriented to bring housing options and give opportunities for change by achieving stable housing and a sustainable income.

5. The Night Ministry (4711 N. Ravenswood Avenue, ph. 773-784-9000)

This Chicago based non-profit looks to provide housing, health care and support to people struggling with poverty or homelessness. The also offer youth housing programs that provide age appropriate supportive services.


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