Last week I had the privilege of representing JOURNEYS at the Housing Matters Conference in Bloomington. This conference was held by Housing Action Illinois—a state-wide coalition of over 160 nonprofit, government, and corporate organizations dedicated to ending homelessness and expanding quality affordable housing throughout the state.
This conference brought together over 200 individuals from the social services, financial, and government realms to learn from and share experiences. There was an array of diverse programming connecting various issues in housing instability with state-wide and community-focused solutions.
Rates of chronic homelessness have increased across the state, and Continuums of Care (CoC) face challenges meeting the needs of their communities while themselves being supported. Homelessness is not a unique experience, and rural, suburban, and urban homelessness look different. To combat this, Governor Pritzker signed the Executive Order to Fight Homelessness in Illinois, which created the Illinois Interagency Task Force on Homelessness and The Community Advisory Council on Homelessness. The technical language boils down to “Home Illinois: Illinois’s Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness,” a 2-year collaborative plan focused on building affordable, supportive housing; bolstering the safety net; securing financial stability; and closing the mortality gap. While this plan cannot ensure that homelessness will never happen in Illinois, it can ensure that an individual’s housing insecurity will be “brief and one-time.”
Another fascinating conversation centered on medical respite care—acute and post-acute care for people experiencing homelessness who are not ill enough to remain in a hospital but are also too ill to recover on the streets. Often, the unhoused are unable to access healthcare and face shorter lifespans and higher rates of illnesses compared to their housed peers. Housing is healthcare.
Respite centers like The Boulevard, RISE Center of Cook County, and Sojourner House offer apartment-style quarters with private kitchens and bathrooms. These are not medical facilities, and they provide secure, dignified living arrangements so individuals can focus on healing and strengthening their physical and mental health for successful independent living. Because these individuals are often unhoused or at-risk of losing their homes, housing case managers and social workers coordinate with agencies to secure affordable housing and keep those at-risk in their homes; these providers also arrange clinical care, transportation, and other services for their clients. Overall, respite centers have proven to be cost-effective and tremendously beneficial; they truly are the future for providing quality services and eliminating health disparities for the unhoused.
My experience at the Housing Matters Conference has left me with new knowledge and a renewed desire to connect JOURNEYS with a wider community of advocates.
Through partnerships with other organizations in the coalition, JOURNEYS continues to grow, learn, and serve the unhoused and at-risk.
Written by Amanda Stocchetti, Grant Associate
Staff Feature: Katie
This month, I talked to Katie, our Vocational Case Manager on our Clinical Team. Katie is one of our newer staff members, but her impact on our community has been nothing short of impressive. Take a look at what she had to say about her work here at JOURNEYS!
"This might sound like a cliché, but the most rewarding part of working at JOURNEYS for me has been helping people. I have been at JOURNEYS for about four months now, having recently graduated with my bachelor’s degree in psychology, along with two minors in sociology and criminal justice. I also have a certificate in mental health skills. I really enjoy helping others with any types of stressors they might be experiencing. I find it very rewarding to be able to provide a bit of hope for those who may have lost it in their lives.
JOURNEYS provides the means to help clients overcome life setbacks. My work includes meeting directly with clients to help provide them with the proper resources they need in order to help them stabilize their lives. That includes helping clients get into our shelter programs, helping them look for work, providing a safe space to speak and work through issues that might be hindering their stabilization process, and assisting them to find more housing.
The staff at JOURNEYS all have great compassion towards others and genuinely want to help, but what truly inspires me is to see how clients often help each other. I have had clients assist other clients in various ways, such as offering to drive one another places, or helping to pay for gas if they’re able to do so. It’s very meaningful to me to see that even in times of personal struggle, our clients still go above and beyond for each other and take care of each other."
Transcribed and arranged by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
After 33 years of experience in serving the unhoused and at-risk of homelessness, JOURNEYS is well-versed in what homelessness is and looks like. However, not everyone agrees on how to define homelessness.
According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Social Work, homelessness is defined as “the situation where someone lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence." This definition, unfortunately, is not specific enough for all tracking agencies to record homelessness in the same way, causing disparities in accounting for homelessness to arise.
For instance, Chicago’s homelessness count for 2020 was interpreted in two drastically different ways: the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless counted doubled-up households, which are two or more households sharing a single residence, in their count and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) didn’t. While HUD only excluded one population, the contrast between the two organization’s final numbers is shocking. HUD totaled 5,390 people experiencing homelessness, but the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless reported 65,611.
After adding the doubled-up households’ population to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ final estimate, their count included significantly more people than HUD’s, creating a very different picture of what homelessness looked like in January of 2020. Without the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless’ report, doubled-up households would not be considered as a population that needs support from government and homelessness agencies. This discrepancy is concerning since doubled-up households were the largest subpopulation recorded in 2020’s homelessness count for Chicago.
Recording homelessness is thus variable due to its loose definition, which causes misinformation to spread on the state of homelessness. Since HUD’s definition of homelessness excludes doubled-up households, people are left to believe that there are only 5,390 people needing homelessness support in Chicago, but this is not the full picture according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
This lack of congruity ultimately creates a problem for those tasked with eradicating homelessness since help cannot be administrated to all housing insecure people if some populations are being excluded. The question of whether or not doubled-up households should be included in the definition of homelessness is currently being debated, meaning there could be room for them in Oxford’s definition. If included, doubled-up households would also be eligible to receive homelessness support from the government and homelessness agencies focused on serving the unhoused in their area, just like any other homeless population.
Understanding which categories should make up the homelessness population is crucial in order to possess the right tools to fight homelessness. JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home understands this importance, giving all of its potential clients the opportunity to receive the services they need, no matter how they are experiencing homelessness. Our case managers communicate with our clients in order to alert JOURNEYS about their current needs as trends regarding homelessness support are always changing.
JOURNEYS ǀ The Road Home promises to serve people enduring housing insecurities within its service area of 37 north and northwest suburban Cook County, and JOURNEYS will continue to work with its clients inclusively so they may receive the help they need.
To get involved or donate to JOURNEYS’ mission, visit our website: journeystheroadhome.org and follow us on Facebook.
Written by Baily Kearney, Grant Associate, edited by Roxanne Gentry, Marketing Associate
Our blog contains original writing on issues related to homelessness, community happenings, and unique agency stories.