Rauner Budget Cuts Threaten Many With Homelessness

by Adriana Cargill

Governor Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget cuts for supportive housing and other homelessness prevention services will impact more than 12,500 of Illinois’s most vulnerable households, according to Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Housing Action Illinois.

Supportive services, like those offered by Mercy Housing in Chicago, provide safety nets like mental and substance abuse counseling and access to computer labs, job training and financial literacy classes that help get people back into the work force. Mercy Housing staff say while stable housing is immediately important, it’s the case management services that keep residents off the streets in the long term.

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The Governor’s proposed $6 billion in budget cuts and pension reductions include an estimated 53 percent reduction in supportive housing services for the state’s 2016 budget. That would reduce funding from $30.3 million to $16.7 million and end services to 10,311 recently homeless households. To make matters worse, even if funding levels remained the same as in 2015, homeless shelters in Chicago are estimated to turn away more than 45,000 households due to lack of capacity according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Cathy Pilarczyk, a long time Mercy employee, is the Resident Services Manager at the South Loop Apartments in Chicago. Pilarcyzk says without supportive services, many residents would become homeless and some may end up in psychiatric wards and jails. That will cost the state and taxpayers much more money in the long run, she says.

Before Clemon Courtney Jr. lived in the South Loop Apartments he was homeless, living in shelters and staying at a friend’s house. Courtney says thanks to the supportive case management services offered by Mercy, he is now getting his GED and his children have come back into his life.

“I’m really proud to live here, absolutely. This is like a dream for me,” Courtney says. “Mercy Housing has changed my life. More than they know.”

The view of the “L” train that Courtney used to sleep on when he was homeless from Coliseum Park in Chicago. (Adriana Cargill/Medill)
The view of the “L” train that Courtney used to sleep on when he was homeless from Coliseum Park in Chicago. (Adriana Cargill/Medill)

Courtney now volunteers at the same homeless shelter where he once lived. He has even begun to advocate for supportive services, meeting with his state representative Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago). Dunkin, like many Illinois Democrats who form the majority in the state legislature, is critical of the governor’s massive cuts to human services.

Mercy Housing estimates its regional center will lose more than $1 million this year in state funding and they’ll have to lay off about 20 people. That means 850 residents won’t receive program services.

The overwhelming need for affordable housing in Chicago was clearly demonstrated in November of 2014, when the Chicago Housing Authority closed its affordable housing wait list with a record setting 282,000 registrants. Of those, approximately 15,900 registrants reported being homeless, living in a shelter or transitional housing according to a CHA press release.

The state legislature has only four weeks left in the spring session to come to an agreement on the governor’s proposed cuts for supportive housing and other human services, including education and mental health. The cuts are meant to fill an estimated $6 billion dollar budget deficit.

“The governor’s recent budget cuts have resulted in the termination of essential state services that provide for vulnerable individuals and working families alike,” notes Dunkin in an April press release. He is serving as a member of the newly created bipartisan House Budget Oversight Panel tasked with reviewing the cuts.

“The state is facing a $6 billion hole because of the insider deals and overspending by career politicians, and without structural reforms, difficult choices have to be made,” says the Governor’s Press Secretary Catherine Kelly. She also notes that while some
services [would be] discontinued, the proposed budget does contain $3 million for preventing homelessness. According to the Housing Action Illinois this $3 million dollars represents a 25 percent cut from pervious funding of $4 million dollars.

Bob Palmer, the Policy Director at Housing Action Illinois, says the problem is the governor’s refusal to extend the 5 percent state income tax, which he says would result in an estimated $5 billion in revenue.

“Governer Rauner is attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor,” says Palmer. His organization is advocating that the state look at revenue solutions instead of cuts in order to fill the budget shortfall.

Homeless youth shelters and services will be cut 55 percent from to $5.6 million to $2.5 million, ending services for 1,326 homeless youths. Homeless Prevention grants to families will be cut 25 percent from $4 million to $3 million, causing 955 households to become or stay homeless, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and Housing Action Illinois.

If state legislators can’t agree on a budget by May 31, they will go into overtime and potentially will have to pass stopgap funding measures.

This article originally appeared in Medill Reports Chicago. You can access the original article by clicking here.

Photo at top: The view of the “L” train that Courtney used to sleep on when he was homeless from Coliseum Park in Chicago. (Adriana Cargill/Medill)