By David Miotto and Marina Naseem
Founded in 1985 by the Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, Lincoln Park Community Services has been serving the homeless population in Chicago for over three decades. This location, 600 W Fullerton Pkwy in Chicago, has seen the homeless population dwindle over the last few years.
Despite the many challenges different shelters may endure, many residents volunteer year after year in support of Lincoln Park Community Services. Volunteer coordinator, Emma Jones of LPCS states, “Our mission is that we bring communities together to empower people to make sustainable life changes, we’re a community organization that wants to make our guests feel like they are part of the Lincoln Park community”.
“We have around 2,000 annual volunteers, and the majority of those people live in Lincoln Park, we want them to feel like they are part of the community, doing more than just providing funds and signing checks, we want them to be actively engaged at least once a year” Jones said. “We want them to get to know the clients that we serve on a deeper level, get to know their unique stories, eat dinner with our guests, work on resumes, just be very community based in all aspects.”
Community outreach and engagement has helped this shelter continue its mission more than 30 years. Besides providing the shelter with generous donations and funding, community input goes beyond that. Without the help of all these volunteers, the homeless population would not get the same benefits and support they need.
Lincoln Park Community Services hopes that with its expansion within the next few months to a new location in Old Town at 1521 N. Sedgwick St., it can be of even greater help to those in need.
“We have 35 people that live here full-time while they are in transition, 24 beds for men, and 11 for women” Jones said. “The new facility will have 48 beds, 24 for men, and 24 for women.”
The new five stories building will be located in Old Town, and it will also have 20 on-site studio apartments that will serve as permanent supportive housing units with subsidized rent to those in need.
Expansion projects such as this one, require major help and support from the city.
“Our entire expansion project wouldn’t be happening without the support of the city, we got a once-in-a-lifetime grant from the city, as well as the State to fund the expansion project, which was previously entirely privately funded,” Jones said.
“A large portion of our funding comes from generous communities’ members and family foundations, $4 million out of the $14 million cost of the expansion project came from private donors,” she said.
A report released in December of 2018, by the Department of Housing and Urban Development indicated that roughly 553,000 people experienced homelessness in the United States.
Of those 553,000, about two-thirds were staying in shelters, and the remainder were in unsheltered locations such as on the street or in abandoned buildings. The unsheltered population increased 2% between 2017 and 2018 per the HUD report, partly due to a decline of homeless people staying in shelters.
In Chicago however, the homeless population has actually decreased over the last three years. The most recent Point in Time (PIT) count conducted in 2018 led by the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS), showed that the total number of homeless people in Chicago was 5,450, a total decrease of 4% from the previous year. Coincidentally, this is same rate of decline between 2016 and 2017.
Since adopting the PTI methodology in 2005, it’s the first time that Chicago’s homeless count is under 6,000 for three consecutive years. The total count of those living in homeless shelters was 4,093, and 1,397 were living unsheltered on the streets.
The decrease was also seen in those that were ‘first time homeless. From 47.2% first time sheltered homeless individuals in 2017, the drop reached a 24.6% in 2018. A significant decrease was also see on the unsheltered individuals, as in 2017 40.1% were first time homeless, and in 2018 only 26.1% were first time homeless unsheltered individuals.
Additionally, the numbers of families in shelters decreased as well. Although it was only a 1% drop from the previous year, it’s the lowest number of families since Chicago has been conducting counts under the current methodology.
Saturday April 27th, People’s Gas and Bo Jackson’s Give Me a Chance Foundation came together to rebuild and renovate Maria Shelter, located in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago which provides housing and services for over 200 women and children. Bo Jackson himself stated, “My mother always said it’s a blessing to lend a hand to help someone else in need, and now that I am out of the professional sports world, that’s my passion”
Kristie Sams of Bo Jackson’s Give Me a Chance Foundation, will also be providing educational assistance programs for the mothers. She has provided them a financial literacy tutor and other tutors such as hair design, nails, etc. to assist the mother’s with finding careers to eventually get back up on their feet and provide for their families. Kristie Sams, stated “A lot of times you have no hope and I want them to have the very best because they deserve the very best. I want them to have a new start”.
Kristie has been doing charity work with children for many years. She states that “working with kids is important because I know what it’s like to be in their shoes and it’s my way of showing of them that no matter what your circumstances, there is hope”.
Romaan Naseem, a 10 year old volunteer at the Maria Shelter renovation, stated “It’s very surprising to see so many kids my age are homeless in our very own community”. He also later stated that, “There would be less homeless people in the world if more people volunteered to help them”.
With over 200 volunteers, the reveal of the renovation of Maria Shelter was overwhelming for some of the mothers and children living there.
Kristie Sams made sure that the women and children felt at home. As you can see in the video above, she definitely got their reaction. The woman in the video stated “Oh my God, we got real tableware”. It’s the small things that make a big difference. Kristie also provided decor among hundreds of other items.
These photos above are paintings that Kristie Sams bought for the shelter.
Despite that the homeless population in Chicago has decreased in recent years, there’s still a lot of work to be done. However, there’s still plenty of hope in Chicago for the homeless in need, and the expansion and renovations of housing such as the Lincoln Park Community Center and Maria Shelter demonstrate that with the help and support of volunteers the homelessness population will continue to decrease. One person at a time, with community outreach and engagement homelessness can be combated in the beautiful city of Chicago.