Chicago’s emergency shelters and other homelessness resources served 1,300 families in the past year. But a new report finds that the true extent of homelessness in Chicago is far greater—affecting as many as 10,000 families.
The report is the product of an innovative partnership between the education and homeless service sectors in Chicago, aimed at shedding new light on families experiencing homelessness in the city and their lived experiences. Their cross-sectoral analysis provides the most comprehensive estimate of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago to date, revealing that family homelessness in Chicago is much more prevalent than official estimates suggest.
While 1,300 families accessed emergency shelters or other services in the homeless services sector, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) served almost 9,000 additional families experiencing homelessness in other types of living arrangements—primarily living doubled up with family or friends.
Because they are not accessing emergency shelter, these families do not fit within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of literal homelessness, and are not included in most official citywide counts. However, the Department of Education’s definition of homelessness is broader, including families living doubled up. When the full range of families served by CPS are incorporated into the count, the estimate jumps from 1,300 to 10,000.
Most families do not become homeless overnight. Almost half of all families that access shelters had previously accessed support services while still housed, but at risk of homelessness. One in ten homeless families had previously applied for short-term homelessness prevention funding by calling 311.
This effort was supported by The Chicago Community Trust’s Housing+ initiative, which awards grants to partnerships addressing the intersections between permanent, stable family housing and improved outcomes for health, educational attainment and recidivism reduction.
The number of families experiencing homelessness in Chicago has declined 20% since 2014. Approximately one-third of that decrease may be explained by citywide population declines in Chicago, researchers believe.
Most families do not become homeless overnight. Almost half of all families that access shelters had previously accessed support services while still housed, but at risk of homelessness. One in ten homeless families had previously applied for short-term homelessness prevention funding by calling 311, which evidence shows decreases the likelihood of becoming homeless. However, the majority of these families were not eligible for funds at the time of calling.
Approximately 1,200 families will likely access shelter or other homeless services while experiencing literal homelessness in the coming year. A little over half of these families will likely be eligible for permanent supportive housing; approximately one-third would be eligible for rapid rehousing; and 10% would benefit from access to more affordable housing units.
“Our goal is to work across partners in the community and with City agencies and Chicago Public Schools to increase resources for high-need families without a home, while focusing on the children with added pressures to keep up socially and academically due to their homelessness,” said Betsy Benito, director of CSH initiatives in Illinois.
“We are grateful for [Urban Labs’] commitment to homelessness and education, and their ability to pinpoint the data leaders will need to ensure kids experiencing homelessness have access to help that will put them on a better trajectory,” Benito said.