The 19-member Oak Park Homelessness Coalition (OPHC) is kicking off a campaign this week to raise awareness across the communities about who and how many are homeless here and to improve referrals for those who are already homeless or at risk of homelessness.

A few pertinent statistics:

  • Oak Park Township General Assistance served 25 homeless adults last year;
  • District 200 – 34 students at the beginning of August 2014;
  • District 97 – 101 homeless students last year;
  • District 200 – 72 homeless students;
  • State of Illinois – 60,000 homeless students last year;
  • Chicago Public Schools – 22,144 homeless students
  • Housing Forward (aka PADS) – outreached 82 individuals last year, 10 of whom had lived in Oak Park;
  • Prevail – 392 Oak Park residents received assistance.

The coalition comprises of a wide range of providers from Housing Forward (aka West Suburban PADS), the agency most frequently associated with homelessness, to the YMCA and Triton College. The 19 members of OPHC serve the homeless population in various ways, but according to its press release, the coalition also “consolidates, educates, and communicates these resources to individuals affected by homelessness and to the general public.”

Lynda Schueler, executive director of Housing Forward, said such a large number of agencies is needed because “to address a community-wide issue requires community-wide stakeholder input. Housing Forward and Prevail provide a critical safety net in the community to both prevent and end homelessness for those affected with a financial or housing crisis. However, any larger-scale transformative change requires distributed ownership across many partners and stakeholders.”

Lisa DeVivo, executive director of the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, said of the OPHC, “We have already begun working together to create a continuum of care and a plan with the goal to end homelessness in Oak Park.”

To that end, the coalition has been meeting quarterly to develop: a baseline understanding of the homelessness issue in Oak Park; goals and strategies to combat homelessness; tactics to create a public-facing campaign that educates people about the issue and how people can help; and expand the coalition.

The campaign is funded, said Schueler, by the Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township through a grant received by Housing Forward (aka West Suburban PADS) on behalf of the coalition. The grant of $11,000 was used to fund the year-long facilitation of the four objectives stated above. Some funding, DeVivo added, has been provided by the Chicago Community Trust.

The campaign is not focused on homeless people themselves but on the whole community. Housing Forward, for example, already has an outreach and engagement team that spends 20 hours per week in Oak Park engaging, building relationships, and connecting homeless individuals to services provided by Thrive, Community Mental Health, Oak Park Township and many other agencies in the coalition.

“Too many individuals and families are affected by homelessness or the threat of homelessness,” said Schueler. “At any point, someone you know could be impacted by a lack of housing and could be sleeping on someone’s couch or living in a shelter or a vehicle. Housing Forward and the OPHC are working closely together to help all who need it.”

According to the campaign’s press release, a Chicago-based branding and interactive firm A5 Inc. produced posters, web content and a microsite to create a platform for the coalition and its mission. The OPHC also plans to use social media and email as a vehicle for sharing the campaign. The posters, which read “I always wanted to help but didn’t know how,” will direct individuals to local resources which help them “know how.”

To find out more about the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition, visit the microsite at: www.endhomelessnessoakpark.com.

Oak Park Homelessness Coalition

8th District, 39th District, A5 Inc., Adult Redeploy Illinois, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, Oak Park Elementary School District 97, Downtown Oak Park, Hephzibah Children’s Association, Housing Forward (formerly PADS), Oak Park Public Library, Oak Park Residence Corporation, Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Oak Park Township, Oak Park and River Forest High School, Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, Park District of Oak Park, Pillars, Prevail, Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action Inc., Rotary Club of Oak Park-River Forest, Thresholds, Thrive Counseling Center, Triton College, Village of Oak Park, Village of Oak Park-Police, Way Back Inn, West Cook YMCA

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Tom Holmes

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