• Erin Hegarty
    AUG 24, 2023

    OIG report finds DFSS is successful in helping Chicagoans living in encampments find permanent housing

    A Chicago encampment highlighted in the OIG report. [Department of Family and Support Services]

    A program coordinated by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services successfully provides rapid rehousing for unhoused Chicagoans living in encampments who want to pursue permanent housing, an audit from Chicago’s Office of Inspector General found.  

    The audit also found city workers are giving residents in encampments proper notice before disposing of abandoned items and that the city did not permanently displace any residents living in encampments during the time under review. 

    While audits by the inspector general often find multiple missteps in city programs and initiatives, Inspector General Deborah Witzburg told The Daily Line the overall programmatic success found in the audit published Wednesday could set an example for scaling future programming meant to address homelessness.  

    The report from the city's top watchdog comes as housing advocates and Mayor Brandon Johnson and his allies on the City Council are priming to formally introduce a proposal to hike the city’s portion of the real estate transfer tax on properties that sell for more than $1 million and use the new revenue to eradicate homelessness through funding for permanent housing and support services.  

    Related: Bring Chicago Home proposal expected to be introduced next month would raise real estate transfer tax for some properties, lower it for sales under $1M  

    Chicago’s point-in-time count of people experiencing homelessness in the city in 2023 was 6,139, though housing advocates argue the number is closer to 65,000 people. The point-in-time count was conducted in January of this year. 

    The city’s Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) monitors sites throughout the city where unsheltered homeless Chicagoans stay, with locations ranging from one person to groups of people living on one site in encampments. Over the past year-and-a-half, the number of active sites where homeless individuals are living has decreased from 90 sites in February 2022 to 67 sites in January 2023.   

    Still, encampments “remain a visible part of communities in all parts of the city,” according to the audit.   

    “Homelessness is a problem of tremendous scale and complexity, and there is a great deal more to do. Meanwhile, the City is doing good work—helping people experiencing homelessness to secure and keep housing, and managing encampments for the health and security of all Chicagoans, housed and unhoused,” Witzburg said in the news release. “There are important successes here in the City’s pursuit of effective and supportive responses to homelessness.”  

    The inspector’s audit found that of the 238 encampment residents who attended an Accelerated Moving Event seeking permanent housing between Nov. 2020 and May 2022, 94 percent secured permanent housing and 83 percent of those residents were still housed by Oct. 3, 2022, according to a news release from Inspector General Deborah Witzburg’s office.     

    The average time it took for residents to move into permanent housing after their Accelerated Moving Event was 46.5 days, the audit found.   

    Accelerated Moving Events give homeless Chicagoans the opportunity to complete the steps that are required to secure housing in just one day. The program, coordinated by DFSS, also works with the Chicago Continuum of Care.  

    The program provides Chicagoans living in encampments an opportunity for stable housing and could be a model for other local governments as they work with encampments in their own jurisdictions, the audit concluded. 

    The audit found employees with DFSS work with the Department of Streets and Sanitation to give residents in encampments seven days’ notice before carrying out monthly cleanings.   

    The city departments also mark items that appear to be abandoned in advance before discarding them. 

    “In its off-street cleaning practices, DFSS has balanced the needs of encampment residents while maintaining a safe and clear public way,” the inspector wrote in the news release.  

    Additionally, DFSS did not permanently displace any residents living in encampments during the time period under review, the audit found. “DFSS does not carry out forced, permanent removal of encampment residents from public spaces,” the audit concluded.  

    The impetus for the audit came from the city recognizing the importance of homelessness as an issue and wanting to examine the broad issue in a particular way, Witzburg told The Daily Line  

    “We couldn't undertake to audit homelessness,” Witzburg said. “So outreach to and service to encampment residents seemed like an important frontline city service that we could get at in terms of looking at its effectiveness.”  

    While it’s important not to “overstate” the results of the audit, which were “not that everything is going perfectly right,” Witzburg said “in these two categories, both with respect to accelerated moving events and in securing stable housing for people who want it, and with respect to direct outreach to encampment residents around cleaning, we found some really important successes. There really are some things that the city's doing well here.”  

    That’s not to say that people have not had negative experiences with finding permanent housing or cleaning events at encampment sites, but Witzburg said she is pleased to see success on a programmatic level.  

    “It’s really important that that information, what amounts to really positive findings, be out there in the public conversation, particularly in an area of social service where trust is hard to come by and where the effectiveness of the city services depends, at least in significant part, on how much people trust the city to do the right thing and to do what it says it will do,” Witzburg said.  

    The OIG made only one recommendation as part of the audit, a rarity as such reports often contain multiple recommendations.   

    The report recommended DFSS provide alderpersons with an updated “Homeless Services FAQs” sheet as a way to curb confusion and clarify how the city’s policies protect the rights of homeless Chicagoans.   

    DFSS officials told the OIG they would attach the city’s Policies and Procedures Governing Off-Street Cleaning to the FAQ sheet and include details of the policies and procedures in the department’s annual report on homelessness and housing to alderpersons.  

    Witzburg views the findings of programmatic success in the DFSS programs reviewed as possible examples for expansion or future programs.  

    “There are opportunities to think about how, and to what extent, things that are working well are scalable — how much more of a good thing could we be doing,” Witzburg said. “I'm interested in thinking about whether there are applicable lessons that we can apply to this larger interdisciplinary, whole of government approach [to addressing homelessness].” 

Showing 1 reaction

Or sign in with email

    Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.