• Erin Hegarty
    SEP 28, 2021

    Aldermen push for continuation of expanded resources for Chicago’s homeless residents

    Department of Family and Support Services Comm. Brandie Knazze (second from left) answers questions during a Monday budget hearing. 

    Aldermen focused much of their time on Monday questioning the leader of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services on how the city is addressing homelessness and whether certain initiatives would continue beyond the life of the pandemic. 

    Department of Family and Support Services Comm. Brandie Knazze underwent hours of questioning from aldermen during her first City Council budget hearing, three months after she was officially confirmed (A2021-73as the head of the department which leads initiatives addressing homelessness, gender-based violence, youth programming and childcare. 

    Under Lightfoot’s proposed budget, funding for the city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) is set to grow from $841.3 million to more than $918.5 million in 2022, a more than 9 percent increase. DFSS’ funding from the city’s Corporate Fund is expected to jump by more than $4 million to $99.4 million, and grant funding for the department is set to increase by about $72 million to more than $783.6 million. 

    DFSS manages Chicago’s more than 3,000-bed shelter network. Knazze said the city’s count of in January showed 4,477 homeless residents throughout the city, 3,023 of whom were in shelters.  

    The Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) also provides support for victims of domestic violence and offers in-home and caregiving services for seniors. 

    Aldermen took turns crediting DFSS employees with helping the city get through the COVID-19 pandemic as it heightened issues that already existed. Ald. Harry Osterman (48) called the department the "unsung heroes of the last year-and-a-half.” 

    But Osterman called the number of employee vacancies in the department “very, very concerning.” 

    Knazze told aldermen during Monday’s budget hearing that of the department’s 374 budgeted full-time equivalent positions, there were 91 vacancies, representing just under 25 percent of the department’s positions. 

    When it comes to city funding to address homelessness, Osterman said he is "a believer that this is the time that we should be expanding the shelter system, but what I'm really interested in is who's going to make it work." 

    Since the pandemic began, the city has used hotels as temporary housing for homeless residents. 

    Related: Aldermen OK extending $540K-per-month agreement to use downtown hotel for homeless residents 

    Additionally during the pandemic, DFSS spent $84,000 in 2020 to drop porta potties and hand sanitizing stations at the city’s 35 homeless encampments.   

    Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35) said the portable toilets and hand sanitizing stations, particularly on the Northwest Side, have been "critically important to improving the quality of life of everyone in the community" and should be continued into 2022. 

    Prior to the pandemic, the city had not been providing homeless encampments with toilets and sanitizing stations. 

    Jonathan Earnst, deputy commissioner of DFSS, told aldermen the “fully loaded cost” for DFSS, the Chicago Police Department and the city’s Streets and Sanitation department to clean the encampments in the city’s “central business district” is $3,415 per week.  

    Ald. James Cappleman (46), a regular advocate for resources to help the city’s homeless residents, noted a cycle many people experiencing homeless have gone through when they get “kicked out of a shelter or supportive housing or nursing home” or Cook County Jail “with no housing in place.”  

    Many homeless residents have “resistance” to and “distrust” of services and “have turned down free housing,” he said. “Many have frequent contact with the criminal justice system...we as a society keep scratching our heads” asking why the situation perpetuates, but “we set this person up to get rearrested over and over again,” Cappleman said before asking what resources the city provides for returning citizens. 

    Knazze told Cappleman the department oversees four reentry centers and works with a “navigator model” to help people acquire IDs, employment and housing. 

    Gender-based violence initiative 

    Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) asked Knazze how her department’s efforts to address gender-based violence and human trafficking cover "internal cultural problems in government, as well as outside government." He noted the "very serious problem” at the Chicago Park District and “it seems like a culture that's embedded there." 

    The Chicago Park District has been under fire in recent months following claims of sexual assault and harassment by lifeguards at the department’s public pools and beaches, uncovered by WBEZ. 

    Knazze said funding for the department is set to allow for "a prevention and education program for young people where we're educating them in the schools about recognizing gender-based violence” and how to respond to it, adding that "gender-based violence is a broader term that encompasses intimate partner violence.” 

    Additionally, a “gender-based advisory council” including "a partner from the mayor's office" is working on developing a strategic plan "that will address not only how, as a department, we provide gender-based services for Chicagoans but also how the city responds as a whole." 

    Also on Monday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot rolled out Chicago’s first “citywide strategic plan to address gender-based violence and human trafficking,” according to a news release from the mayor’s office.  

    The new plan “seeks to build the muscle within City government to understand and address [gender-based violence] and human trafficking; design a citywide ecosystem that adequately prevents, responds, and intervenes in cases of GBV and human trafficking in trauma-informed and culturally specific ways; and invest in critical services to stabilize survivors and increase safety,” according to the news release. 

    ARP funding 

    DFSS stands to see an investment of $213 million through funding from federal American Rescue Plan dollars through Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s proposed Chicago Recovery Plan. 

    Knazze broke down the funding for aldermen on Monday, including:  

    • $65 million for youth programming, including the expansion of Chicago Youth Services Corps and funding for the city’s One Summer Chicago Program.  
    • $20 million for youth intervention 
    • $10 million for juvenile diversion 
    • $10 million for workforce development, including help for residents who are homeless or who have just been released from jail   
    • $20 million to address gender-based violence  
    • $20 million for rapid rehousing for the city’s homeless residents 
    • $53 million for “targeted financial assistance,” including Lightfoot’s proposed guaranteed income program 

    Ald. Michael Rodriguez (22) during Monday’s budget hearing asked about opportunities for the “advocacy side” to "co-design" Lightfoot’s proposed guaranteed income program, which would provide $500 monthly payments to 5,000 families for 12 months.  

    Related: Lightfoot reveals 'Chicago Recovery Plan' with guaranteed income plank as progressive groups take credit 

    Knazze told aldermen the city already has “best practices” from a program it's been piloting for the past three years and other best practices from programs across the country. 

    Additionally, DFSS plans on "hiring staffing" for the program and will put out a Request for Proposals for an administrator of the program. 

    License Appeal Commission 

    Separately on Monday, aldermen heard from Laura Parry, who chairs the city’s License Appeal Commission.  

    The commission oversees public hearings for liquor license applications and reviews appeals for suspensions, revocations and fines given by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. 

    Parry told aldermen on Monday the commission has had two appeals filed this year and has collected $250 — $125 for the filing of each appeal — in fines and fees. 

    Responding to questions from Waguespack, Parry said both cases are pending, but in cases considered this year, six applicant appeals were withdrawn, the commission reversed one application case and the two license revocation cases the commission heard were affirmed and upheld by the Circuit Court. 

    The commission is set to see its funding increase by $6,689 next year, according to Lightfoot’s proposed spending plan. The license appeal commission is funded fully by the city’s Corporate Fund and has one full-time position. Funding for “personnel services” is set to balloon by more than $6,600 to $102,732 in 2022, accounting for a vast majority of the commission’s budget increase next year. 


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