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The city of Chicago has spent about $12.5 million to build an emergency shelter for homeless people who are afraid of the weather or have serious mental health problems, according to a study released by the American Civil Liberties Union.
It’s an expensive measure — $13.25 per adult — but it’s far more than any other city has spent on its own shelters in recent years. The average cost in Chicago is about $19 a day, according to the report, which was obtained by the Tribune.
Even so, homeless advocates are concerned. They say the city is using the shelter to house more mentally ill people than it should.
“The way the study was structured, you would think they’re using the funds to find housing, and they find shelter,” said Chris Ziegler, executive director of Housing Action Chicago. “Instead, the shelter is being utilized for people who are homeless and mentally ill.”
To determine the exact costs, the ACLU sent experts to Chicago to interview people in shelters and other programs while also obtaining data on the need for those services at different shelters. They chose the city’s shelter system because it’s the largest in the country, with more than 800 spaces, and because of the city’s commitment to housing for people in crisis.
Housing advocates are dismayed, saying the city could be using the shelter system, and the money it currently spends on it, better. They fear the city is using the shelter system to house people who would otherwise be housed in the city’s housing initiatives instead.
“The city is clearly not focusing its resources on providing housing for the homeless at the same level as what we’re seeing in housing assistance at large,” said Mark Sussman, Housing New York’s chief operating officer. “That’s what I see, in fact, in the numbers.”
The study found that shelters were serving only about 10 percent of the homeless population, with another 12 percent needing emergency housing and about 4 percent needing other types of help.
The city does spend money providing shelter. For instance, the state of Illinois provides state funding to assist homeless families in finding permanent housing.
The ACLU study suggests that the city could spend roughly $30 million annually on homeless services — including permanent housing — rather than an estimated $17 million annually for shelter.
But advocates say it’s not clear how that money could be
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