The outlook is dire for social services agencies that help the homeless in Illinois. A recent survey of state-funded homeless service providers found that the state budget impasse has forced, or soon will force, 90 percent of these nonprofit agencies to deny assistance to people at-risk of or experiencing homelessness.
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Housing Action Illinois and Supportive Housing Providers Association surveyed providers from Aug. 14 through Sept. 2 to find out what steps they have taken in response to the Illinois budget impasse.
The results of the survey are staggering. Ninety percent of agencies have or will take one or more of the following steps: cut services for existing clients, limit the number of new clients, reduce the number of hours worked by staff, laid off staff, eliminate programs and close sites. A majority of providers have experienced increased demand for services, and 85 percent are concerned about the absence of state dollars impacting their ability to provide matching funds required to access federal funding.
This is not just an issue for large Illinois cities. Southern Illinois has been hit hard, too. The Delta Center Inc. in Cairo has closed. As a result, 65 percent of the center’s employees lost their jobs and several programs and sites closed completely, including a HUD-sponsored housing program for the homeless.
Family Counseling Center in Vienna acquired additional services when Delta Center closed. Family Counseling Center established a new division called Delta Center Services Division and estimates that about 75 percent of Delta Center’s 300 clients will continue to receive services. Family Counseling Center’s administrative and financial staff has already been asked to reduce their hours from 40 per week to 35 to defer the need for furlough days or layoffs.
Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless has made cuts in every area, according to Camille Dorris, executive director.
“At this point, we have reduced staff hours, therefore reducing services. We have not laid anyone off, but it might happen,” Dorris said.
The funding SICH receives from the state provides direct services to the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless. The agency works with people to help complete schooling and find a better-paying job to help them pay for affordable housing.
“We start from where they are, and we assist them. It has a huge trickle-down effect. Putting people in affordable housing, which is what we do, is much more affordable that incarcerating them, housing them in shelters, or paying for the health effects of being homeless,” Dorris said.
The group has several units that currently sit empty, in need of repairs. The funding is not available to make those repairs. Also, clients must have the financial ability to have utilities turned on. Without help from LIHEAP, state-funded energy assistance, some clients cannot turn on utilities.
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Dorris said it’s a never-ending cycle; one things affects another.
“The biggest concern that we have is the state funding is tied to federal budgets. We use that as match for the federal monies. What that amounts to is the people who are living in permanent housing may not be able to continue to live in that housing,” Dorris said.
SICH currently has 48 adults and 30 children in affordable housing units. Those individuals are at risk of losing their homes if state funding is not made available.
Good Samaritan Ministries is in better shape than some local agencies. State grants make up a little less than one-fifth of the agency’s budget. Those funds usually arrive in July or August.
“We’ve had to turn to the community, and we’ve had an overwhelming response. That has helped us get through the month of September. When we get into mid-October, I don’t know what we are going to do,” Patty Mullen, assistant director of Good Samaritan Ministries, said.
Good Samaritan also is seeing more people with mental health diagnoses who have nowhere to go because many of those agencies also rely on state funding.
Mullen believes they have cut everything they possibly can.
“I do the grants, so I do the reports,” she said. “We have a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness for the first time, and the only time. It’s the one point of time that they need help and who do they turn to for help?”
The agency has a contract with Illinois Department of Human Services, but those always include a clause about the state budget.
“We still are receiving our federal money. Between that and the community, it’s the only thing keeping us afloat,” Mullen said.