In January 2003, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley endorsed an ambitious 10-year plan to end homelessness in Chicago. After achieving some success in the early stages of the program, the city’s total homeless population jumped by 12 percent from 2007 to 2011.
The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness spearheaded the 10-year plan and outlined several strategies to reach its goal, one of which included preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless in the first place.
However, officials said the country’s poor economic performance significantly hampered their efforts.
“I don’t think anybody predicted the long recession and jobs crisis that our city and country is facing right now,” said Nicole Amling, director of public policy for the alliance. “We’re actually quite proud that our numbers haven’t increased as dramatically as one would have expected with an 11 percent unemployment rate in the city of Chicago, a foreclosure crisis and the great recession of the past four or five years.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires Chicago to conduct a point-in-time count of the homeless population every two years. On a cold night in January, hundreds of volunteers team up in pairs and travel around the city to physically count all people living on the streets, CTA, in parks and homeless shelters.
According to the point-in-time counts provided by the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, the city’s total homeless population dropped nearly 12 percent between 2005 and 2007, from 6,715 to 5,922.
But when the subprime mortgage crisis began to permeate across the country, any momentum gained by the city came to a screeching halt. In fact, Chicago’s homeless population increased by 5 percent between 2007 and 2009, reaching a total of 6,240. The upward trend continued over the next two years, as the homeless population swelled to 6,638 in 2011.
Those who collaborated with the city on the homelessness blueprint said the economy wasn’t the only thing to blame for the statistical rise.
“The primary problem with the plan was a lack of resources to create the housing necessary to move people out of shelter quickly,” said Julie Dworkin, director of public policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
Yet members of the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness aren’t ready to label the plan a failure.
“As with anything, there were things that were really great and there were things that were much more difficult,” said Nonie Brennan, the alliance’s chief executive officer. “I think there’s a lot of things we can say were very big successes in the 10-year plan, one of which is that we have more than doubled the amount of supportive permanent housing in Chicago.”
“We were one of the first cities in the country to write a 10-year plan. So we are evaluating that plan, which allows us to learn what went well and what things challenged us,” she said.
Just a few weeks after taking office, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top policy staff reached out to Brennan and her team and encouraged them to start working on a new plan to end homelessness. The alliance calls it “Plan 2.0.”
Last week, the alliance met daily with more than 400 stakeholders in the community who provided feedback on the original plan and offered recommendations for the new project. Brennan and her staff then plan on reviewing the recommendations before formally presenting Plan 2.0 to the mayor in the spring.
“I think anybody who was there learned so much,” Brennan said. “Not just about what happened in the past, but also about what’s possible. I think we are all invigorated and enthusiastic and excited about what the future holds.”