It's time we end homelessness

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By Oak Park Homelessness Coalition

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In Oak Park, we have about 50 people who are chronically homeless. In our schools, more than 100 kids are homeless. That means they are couch surfing or living with friends or relatives. And another 5 percent of people in Oak Park live below the extreme poverty line of $9,000 per year, making Oak Park inaccessible for many.

At the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition, we are working to end homelessness in Oak Park by making it rare, brief and one time. In 2017, more than 35 public and private sector organizations developed a plan, and in the past year significant progress has been achieved. Working with a core team from Housing Forward, Community Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, the Oak Park Public Library, the village of Oak Park, and a5, we held quarterly meetings with the coalition to execute the plan.

Oak Park has long held affordable housing as one of its values. In 2017, the Affordable Housing group submitted a response to a village of Oak Park RFP requesting $500,000 for a short-term rental assistance fund. The group also supports the village plan to invest dollars in affordable housing units. 

In addition, the Affordable Housing Work Group submitted a grant proposal to Housing Action Illinois for a staff member to work on behalf of the coalition and with Housing Forward on a coordinated entry program.

While many organizations provide help to those in need, enhanced coordination is a goal of the coalition. The Service Intersections Group collaborated to create a standardized screening tool designed to identify needs and keep individuals from slipping through the cracks. The tool also provides referral resources to the agencies providing services for food programs, public assistance, early childhood, behavioral health, domestic violence, developmental disabilities, seniors, immigration and medical and dental care.

Next step: developing a referral database that provides updated, interactive resource information and a closed-loop referral system.

Once implemented, the referral database will help the providers link clients to the appropriate services, allow different providers to coordinate services and follow up on the outcome of the referral. The database will provide analytics to help planning bodies and advocates close service gaps and advocate for needed services. 

More than 100 students in Oak Park elementary schools and high school are homeless. This can have devastating impacts on the students' overall development. The schools serve as critical and important touch points for connecting families to services in order to stabilize their financial and living arrangements as quickly as possible.

The Community Touchpoints Group worked with District 97 over the past year to identify ways to connect families to services, and entered into an agreement between Housing Forward and D97 to implement referral strategies so that the D97 registrar and other key staff can share a family's contact information with Housing Forward, which can now work to shorten the amount of time students and families endure the detrimental stress related to housing instability. 

To generate community awareness and support, the coalition made presentations across the village, developed a website and grew its social media presence. Sponsors Oak Park Apartments and Waterton helped the coalition reach more people in Oak Park — yet there is much more to do.

In 2018, we will also begin working on another goal: providing education, employment and career opportunities for the homeless.

On March 1 at 7 p.m. at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake St., the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition will hold its second annual meeting.

Join us to learn more about our progress and this year's goals for the Plan of Action. To RSVP, please email Chloe at Pre-registration is encouraged but not required.

The core team of the Oak Park Homelessness Coalition includes Lisa DeVivo, John Harris, Vanessa Matheny, Jim Madigan, Carolyn Newberry-Schwartz, Lynda Schueler, and Dawn Stockmo.

Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 6th, 2018 6:32 PM

Not making a joke Jason. If it is 100 kids now it is five classrooms full. So maybe the trend will have 200 kids by 2020 and 300 by 2025. We will need more classroom space, more teachers, another school. Perhaps the county should be giving Oak Park more funds to help too. Our position on the map right next to Chicago is going to make this issue bigger and bigger. If the "appropriate services" are located in Oak Park it is going to pull people here, so we should be getting more help from Chicago, Cook County and the state.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 6th, 2018 11:13 AM

I work with homeless youth through Casa Norte. Most people are completely oblivious to the problem of homelessness involving children. I am sure if more people were made aware and there was some sort or capital campaign many Oak Parkers would help. We will never be able to end it, but homeless youth need a safe and nurturing place to go to every night. Any investment or donation would pay dividends exponentially.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: March 6th, 2018 7:43 AM

@Tom, it takes a special kind of person to make jokes about homeless children. These groups are trying to help and this is your response. You really are a wonderful human being.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: March 5th, 2018 10:16 PM

With the unlimited amount of homeless in Chicago, we should be building another entire school in D97 just to fit all the kids the Coalition can pull into our school system from Chicago. If it is currently 100 students, that is 5 classrooms full with 5 teachers, and then administrative staff. Maybe we need to have another referendum just to fund all of this.

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