Now 11-months into the fiscal year with no budget, Inspiration Corporation has had to make difficult cuts to its Housing Services program, which provides homeless individuals and families with the housing and services they need to get off the streets and live independently. We’ve had to reduce the number of case managers on our staff from seven to just two, leading to overwhelming caseloads for the staff that remains and less time to devote to our participants’ many needs.
Shalonda is an example of how this loss of funding for our Housing Services program has already had a negative impact on our participants.
Shalonda’s struggles began early on. When she was seven, Shalonda and her five siblings were taken from her mother and placed into foster care. “I didn’t like it. In the group homes, in the foster homes, everywhere I grew up, there was a lot of abuse.” After a series of bad situations, including a foster mother who prevented her from graduating by keeping her out of school, she aged out of the system and stopped receiving services. “They’re supposed to be your support growing up, but once you turn 18 or 21 they just let you go like they never had you.”
At that time, Shalonda moved in with her husband’s family, but his mother’s drug use led them to leave. After several months of living in shelters, Shalonda was referred to the Housing Services program at Inspiration Corporation.
At first, Shalonda’s experience with her housing situation was a positive one. Placed in an apartment where she felt safe, she recalls being able to access services and communicate with case managers easily, and they were even able to help furnish her home. After a year in her first building, the owner sold the space, and she was relocated to her current unit. Because of the limited funding that supportive housing programs receive in Illinois, rental subsidies are often so low that the only units that are available for tenants are located in high-crime, impoverished areas of the city.
From neighborhood violence to landlord tensions, the daily stress and anxiety Sholanda faces has taken an extreme toll on her, her husband, and their four children. Her situation is made even more difficult because few funds are available to provide the case management she needs.
While Sholanda’s rental subsidies are not in immediate danger of cuts, recent statewide cuts to supportive housing programs and the ongoing budget impasse have dramatically reduced the ability for providers like Inspiration Corporation to have staff on hand to provide essential supportive services to tenants.
Shalonda remembers having five different case managers in the six years she’s been a part of our housing program, a product of Inspiration Corporation being forced to shuffle caseloads as staff positions have been eliminated over time. She often feels trapped and unable to advocate for her family within their home. “The more we try to save and build, the more we have to spend money on other things.”
Each of Inspiration Corporation’s housing case managers is juggling a caseload of over 60 households, which is well over what would be considered best practice in the field. Due to a combination of contracts that have been cut, and contracts that have not been paid as the State navigates its budget impasse, we simply cannot afford to pay for enough staff to properly operate the program, and participants like Shalonda are suffering as a result. Staff is unable to spend time to meet with her to help her set financial or employment goals, or to help connect her with outside resources that could be a benefit to her family. Right now, Shalonda has almost no access to a case manager, and without funds to fill in the gaps that Illinois has left during the budget crisis, she won’t get access anytime soon.
Shalonda wants to be in a place where she doesn’t have to rely on our Housing program at all. The best way we can help her achieve this is with more staff to help get her back on a path towards self-sufficiency. “I want to get to the stage where I can pay my own rent. I want better for my kids.”