Impact of state budget cuts on the homeless

Opinion

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By Lynda Schueler

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The Housing Forward staff first met Liam at the PADS Shelter last winter. It was a one-night reprieve from the wind and snow for the veteran who had been homeless for 20 years. Liam usually slept outside in parks, broken down cars, and behind stores. Because of his high-risk lifestyle, he had been a frequent user of emergency services, such as the fire and police departments. 

Housing Forward provided Liam with consistent shelter and case management, but he was experiencing the day-to-day hardship and instability of homelessness. He was often difficult to engage with because he preferred to stay outside and away from support services. After months of relationship building, our Street Outreach team was able to refer Liam to our Open Door Housing program, which provides permanent supportive housing for individuals who are homeless and have a disability. 

Supportive housing integrates voluntary, flexible, recovery-focused and community-based strategies to end homelessness and unnecessary institutionalization for children and adults with a mental illness, intellectual or developmental disability, or chronic, debilitating physical illness. Veterans often are among this population due to issues with post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

As of July 1, the supportive services intended to keep individuals like Liam stable in his apartment have been cut by more than 50% due to the state's budget impasse. Housing Forward's now-reduced state contract to support the delivery of critical services to individuals and families residing in supportive housing across our community services area has been signed, but the funding has not started flowing. 

Supportive housing providers across the state have repeatedly advised lawmakers and the Rauner administration that supportive housing saves state tax dollars by providing stability for those with complex health needs. Emergency rooms, hospitals, jails, nursing homes or state institutions are far more expensive settings that, historically, have been alternatives for the individuals we serve. 

According to the Illinois Housing Development Authority's 2013 annual report, Illinois taxpayers save $37,000 each year for every individual kept in supportive housing and out of a nursing home or institution. Additionally, the state's investment in supportive housing leverages considerable federal funds and also helps ensure Illinois' compliance with federal consent decrees mandating the availability of community-based housing options for individuals with a disability or mental illness.

Housing Forward has joined a coalition of more than 300 nonprofit organizations across Illinois in calling on Governor Rauner and the General Assembly to work together to pass a fair, adequate and fully-funded Fiscal Year 2016 budget. 

While slashing the budget for programs like supportive housing balances this year's budget, it does so at the expense of the state's most vulnerable residents, like Liam, while costing taxpayers more in the long-term when the only alternatives for these individuals are expensive public resources.

Lynda Schueler is the executive director of Housing Forward, the only organization in west Cook County with a full continuum of programming for preventing and ending homelessness. Since 1992, the agency has helped more than 11,000 people transition from housing crisis to housing stability. The organization's comprehensive "housing + services" solution to homelessness is supported by a 1,000-person volunteer network, 41 staff and 17 program partners. 

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