By Juan Toledo and Niyat Habtezion
Updated: Dec. 23, 2016 | Originally posted: Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016
EDITOR'S NOTE: Two weeks after this story was published, officials announced that the shelter would stay open through the end of winter. Read more.
On Dec. 23, the Peoples Church Homeless Shelter in Uptown will be shut down, but there are still a few men staying there and waiting it out until the last minute.
Jeremy Humbracht was one of the last accepted to North Side Housing Program at the Peoples Church. Humbracht suffers from a bipolar disorder, and he had nothing when he entered the program.
For him, the shelter center was his sense of stability after he was on the streets as a result of his bipolar disorder.
“When I heard the shelter was closing, I started to panic. I wasn’t sure where I’d go," he said. "I was afraid of returning back to the street. It seems like the state doesn’t care about people in my situation.”
North Side Housing, a comprehensive human agency focusing on ending homelessness, funded the Peoples Church Homeless Shelter, which is located west of Tent City and a few blocks from the Lawrence Red Line station. But with the Illinois budget not being approved, and the grants provided from the government, North Side Housing decided it could no longer provide financial assistance for the $550,000 a year needed to run the shelter.
When The People’s Church got news of the closure, officials provided permanent housing through referral programs for 11 out of the 72 men staying at the shelter. Most have been relocated to Pacific Garden Mission located near the Loop, or Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph on the far West Side. Of those who stayed at The People’s Church, eight have decided to stay until the last minute.
They have made The People’s Church their home – for now.
The Peoples Church Chicago has been a temporary home for approximately 275 men this year. The program consists of up to a 120 days stay where by the end of their period, they hope to provide a permanent home through one of their many housing programs.
“The Peoples Church is not an emergency shelter, it is an interim housing program,” said Gloria Robinson, director of interim housing and housing trust programs at Northside Housing.
The programs she runs helps homeless men find permanent homes. One of the programs is subsidized housing. It is an income based program, and it provides the men in the shelter with a stable job a subsidized rent. The program requires that tenants only pay 30 percent of the rent, and the program provides the other 70 percent.
Robinson said she believes the Peoples Church is not going to be an isolated instance.
“With the state of Illinois budget not being approved, it its likely that more cuts are on the way,” she said.
James Cappleman, in his first term as 46 th Ward Alderman that began in 2013, attempted to shut down transit hotels, and also attempted to relocate a Salvation Army truck that gave food out to the homeless.
Cappleman is viewed by many to have a pro-development agenda, meaning that Cappleman views the neighborhood’s homeless and mentally ill as an obstacle to the construction on condominiums and the growth of lake front retail.
A few years ago, the city shut down Community Counseling Centers of Chicago which forced 10,000 mental health patients in the Uptown area out on the street with no support. Chicago’s homeless population was 125,848 in the 2014-2015 school year. In the 2013-2014 school year, the homeless population was 138,575.
Clearly, the city of Chicago was doing something right in regardless to getting the homeless population down.
But what will become of closing down The Peoples Church homeless shelter?
In may of 2015, Chicago’s Coalition for the Homeless wrote a letter of response to Cappleman in regard to his comments that the city of Chicago and Chicago’s Coalition for the homeless is not doing enough to offer services for Chicago’s homeless.
In response to Cappleman’s comments in May’s luncheon, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless released a statement which read: “We endeavor to protect homeless persons from the dangers and risks of the street by working to create housing opportunities and services. We also work to protect homeless persons from becoming the targets of discrimination, mistreatment, or bigoted attitudes such as Cappleman’s.”
Interim Executive Director Jean Seigfried Darling said the organization is looking at options for the empty space.
“We are looking for some alternative because we would need something to have in the space to help support the building,” she said. “It would still be directed toward homelessness.”
When asked further of what programs they would use to fill up that space, she said, “We have a plan A. Right now we are working on finding funds to keep the shelter running.”
The Peoples Church is the only shelter that is allowed to keep a homeless shelter in the basement of a building. Since the shelter has been there for a while, this right has been grandfathered in.
Seigfried said, “If it [the building] doesn’t have a shelter for six months then it’s [right to have a shelter in the basement] gone and the grandfather expires.”
The Peoples Church did not comment on possible programs if the shelter is not able to reopen.
Leaders decried the closing at a Nov. 21 a press conference in front of the Bradley Center, which houses The Peoples Church.
There were chants of “People first, banks last,” which emphasizes the problem with big corporations and how the government is not cutting taxes on those in order to fund the homeless centers.
Several men staying at the shelter offered testimonials at the press conference.
Humbracht, meanwhile, wonders where he is going to stay after the shelter closes two days before Christmas. The Peoples Church has been a place of comfort and home for him. He shared his concern of being pushed back on the streets and the hardships that come with it.
“The governor [Bruce Rauner] should put politics aside and pass a budget that fully funds shelters and affordable housing,” Humbracht said.
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