In Chicago, a Regional Funding Pool is Helping the Chronically Homeless Get Off the Street and Into a Permanent Home
A successful demonstration program lays the foundation for a $13 million funding pool for supportive housing.
By Barbara Ray
Joanne was short of breath. It was 2017 and she was homeless, living on the streets in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Joanne (a pseudonym) has bipolar disease and self-medicates with alcohol and crack-cocaine, according to the local alderman, James Cappleman. She’s been arrested at least 18 times and picked up by police far more than that. Joanne is also well-known to the staff at Weiss Hospital in the neighborhood. Cappleman was with Joanne when she became short of breath. A 911 call went in, and within minutes a police car, firetruck, and ambulance pulled up and greeted her by name.
“The EMS driver told me that Joanne had been calling 911 twice a day for the past two years,” Cappleman wrote in an email, “and that there were literally hundreds of Joannes out there in Chicago who do the same thing every day of the week.”
While Joanne may be calling 911 frequently, Eric (also a pseudonym) wants nothing to do with the ER and typically refuses medical care. Eric, too, is homeless, and his health is extremely fragile. He is bipolar, has a serious eye infection with open sores that need attention, and he is addicted to drugs. He has been arrested 25 times. He told Cappleman that he didn’t care if he lived or died.
Homelessness is more than lacking a home. It is a dangerous health condition.
Like many people experiencing chronic homelessness, Eric and Joanne are in fragile physical states. Nationally, people who are chronically homeless living on the street have mortality rates as high as many cancers. A chronically homeless individual can expect to live to only age 52. Homelessness is a health risk at any time, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s an even greater risk. Legislators are looking at ways to better cope with the problem. The Better Health Through Housing demonstration program in Chicago along with a new funding pool to expand the services can offer some guidance. Since November 2015, Better Health Through Housing has…