If money truly is a form of speech, the City’s budget speaks volumes.
In 2016, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless calculated the number of homeless individuals in Chicago at well over 80,000. This number varies drastically from the city’s official 2017 Point in Time (PIT) count of 5,657 homeless individuals, which used a narrow and exclusive definition of homelessness. In fact, according to Chicago’s own Chicago Public School Office of Students in Temporary Living Situations, 17,894 homeless students attended CPS schools during the 2017-2018 school year.
With almost 3% of Chicago’s population experiencing homelessness, the city’s budget ought to reflect the significance of the issue[i]. Instead, a closer examination of the city budget over the past eight years demonstrates consistency with Chicago’s historic tendency to criminalize populations already burdened by decades of systemic marginalization:
Chicago’s Community Services departments and Department of Planning and Development hold the following responsibilities, among others:
- Providing guidance, services, and strategies that make Chicago a healthier and safer city
- Enforcing the Chicago Human Rights Ordinance and the Chicago Fair Housing Ordinance
- Promoting total access, full participation, and equal opportunity in all aspects of life for people with disabilities
- Connecting Chicago residents and families to resources that build stability, support their well-being, and empower them to thrive
- Working in every community to provide financing for neighborhood revitalization, preserve affordable housing and homeownership opportunities… [and] make Chicago the best place to live, work, and raise a family
When combined, these departments (with the Public Library added in for good measure) received a meager 57 cents for every CPD dollar over the last 8 years.
If a true reexamination of budgetary priorities occurs, and a renewed emphasis is placed on care rather than criminalization, many of Chicago’s systemic problems could be addressed at their roots. The entire city, including the police department, and most importantly those Chicagoans most in need, would benefit. Equitable growth and development could be recognizable goals, rather than farfetched aspirations.
At this point in time, however, the city’s Homeless Management Information System shows 856 openings in permanent supportive housing.
If responsibly, sustainably, and fairly caring for and housing all Chicagoans are true priorities for Chicago’s elected officials, future budgets should validate them. With the mayor, city clerk, city treasurer, and all 50 seats on the city council up for election, it’s time to push Chicago’s candidates on questions of action and justice; then, on February 26 2019, vote.