Homeless survey’s prime mission is housing
Loren Seeger, program coordinator for The Alliance To End Homelessness, presents data gathered in its recent survey. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Reducing suburban homelessness in Cook County starts with finding homes for people most likely to perish on the streets.
Building on that mission, local homeless agencies are focused on finding and identifying the most vulnerable, evaluating their physical and mental health, including those affected by frostbite, HIV/AIDS, age, emergency room visits, street longevity and substance abuse, among others.
Driving the undertaking is the 100,000 Homes Campaign, a nonprofit national movement of communities working to find permanent homes for chronically homeless people.
The Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County took part in the campaign by conducting its three-day, biennial count in predawn hours on Jan. 24-26.
“The vulnerability survey really helps us find who might die out there,” said Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Westchester-based Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County.
On Friday, local social services met at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood to hear the count’s survey results in the north, west and south suburbs. More than 150 volunteered.
“The keystone here is finding regular housing, then get services for the most vulnerable,” she said.
The survey count qualifies the Alliance and other agencies to receive millions in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Loren Seeger, Alliance program coordinator, said teams visited well-known homeless “hot spots.”
“We go to where they congregate, such as forest preserves, Dunkin Donuts on Harlem Avenue (in Oak Park), under bridges and the Jewel loading docks in Forest Park,” she said.
“Some are asleep or intoxicated, so they can’t participate in our survey, but we try to tell others about when food pantries and warming shelters are open.”
The unofficial count showed 111 vulnerable homeless among 346 completed surveys of the sheltered and unsheltered.
In the 2011 Alliance count, homeless children and adults in suburban Cook County dropped nearly 13 percent, going from 1,237 to 1,080, or 157 less. Results of this year’s count are not yet tabulated, but unsheltered people in the north suburbs numbered 23; west, 21 and 14 in the south suburbs.
Counting the homeless in shelters could add 1,000 more, Hill said.
Dethro (whose last name was withheld) is a current resident at West Suburban PADS in Maywood, and participated in the homeless count all three nights, spoke at Friday’s debriefing event.
“I was out there looking for people like me,” he told more than 80 social services officials in attendance.
He met a homeless man named Dennis.
“I told him not to give up. God has a way. We shared a prayer and he smiled ear to ear. I walked away with tears in my eyes,” Dethro said.
West Suburban PADS found housing for a homeless man named Arthur.
“When I see people on the streets, it tugs at me,” he said. “I pray for them.”
Ray Willis, director of community and planning for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, said federal housing programs also are targeting the most vulnerable.
“We’re in the midst of a transition, going from traditional services to understanding more about the quality of services and more peer review,” he said.
So far, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has found housing for 28,400 people, according to the nonprofit Community Solutions that oversees the program.
Instead of past counts that collect basic demographics, 100,000 Homes asks the unsheltered homeless for their phone numbers, emergency contacts and takes photographs.
“Faceless numbers may be helpful in the abstract, but this campaign puts names on faces,” Hill said.