New study shows homeless assistance works - State budget impasse reduced funds for needy in Chicago by $1 million

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, September 4, 2016

When homeless prevention funds are available, a person’s chance of becoming homeless within six months is reduced by 76 percent, according to a new study in the Journal of Science featuring Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The University of Notre Dame’s Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities spent two years measuring data from Catholic Charities Homelessness Prevention Call Center and All Chicago and were able to prove that homeless assistance does work.

Because of the state budget impasse, however, more than $1 million in assistance was not available for the 2016 fiscal year and no money is guaranteed for the next fiscal year. That reduced funding resulted in 2,000 fewer people receiving help this past year.

“Oftentimes it’s a short time frame that they have to get help to prevent the spiraling effects into poverty,” said Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Many families live on the edge of homelessness every day. Over the past seven years Boland said more parents have had to take more than one part-time job because they can’t find full-time work. Under normal circumstances they can pay their bills but if a tragedy happens or someone in the family gets sick then they quickly spiral.

“We just know how difficult it is when children have to be displaced in the sense that they can’t go to the same schools. It’s tremendously disruptive in the lives of the children and the parents,” he said.

The study in the Journal of Science is helpful because it validates what they already know, Boland said.

“You feel more confident when you talk to either donors or government agencies to have them realize that this really does work and it isn’t just us saying it, but Notre Dame is standing behind it and saying it too,” Boland said.

Jim Sullivan, one of the study’s authors, said the way emergency financial assistance is distributed in Chicago — funds are available at different times of the year so it’s a first-come-first-served method — offered a unique opportunity for the researchers to study the direct effect of the impact of the assistance in a way that wasn’t done before.

“It is very common for nonprofit and government agencies to provide financial assistance to prevent homelessness. And yet, until now, we really did not know what effect this assistance had,” said Sullivan. “This is the first study that examines the direct impact of financial assistance on homelessness. By comparing the shelter entry rates for those who call when funding is available to the rates for those who call when funding is not available, we were able to show that financial assistance makes a big difference.”

The way Chicago administers homeless assistance is unique. Instead of a person having to call individual agencies to see what funds are available they just make one phone call to 311, the city’s non-emergency hotline.

Based on what a caller says — such as “I’m about to lose my home” or “I just lost my job and can’t pay my...” — operators will know to transfer the caller to Catholic Charities’ Homelessness Prevention Call Center.

Six people staff the phones Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The phones are always ringing. Each caller is asked questions related to demographics, income, cost of rent and utilities and veteran status. They are also asked what happened that caused the situation to determine if Catholic Charities or another agency can solve their problem in another way other than homeless assistance.

Through the database, staff match the caller to one of 90 agencies in the city that has funds available. The emergency funds are for people one or two months behind on payments, not those six months behind or more.

Because funding comes into agencies at different times during the year through government contracts, foundation grants and other sources, assistance is available at different times.

Not having the state’s funding is a blow to homeless assistance because the state is the largest provider of these funds and has the most generous requirements offering up to three months of assistance for rent, utilities and security deposit. Most funds only cover rent or utilities.

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  • catholic charities
  • university of notre dame
  • homelessness
  • homlessness prevention

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