A few days ago, volunteers at the REST homeless shelter in Uptown received an email, letting them know that the shelter would be closing this week.
"It is with a heavy heart that I share with you the news that after 3 decades of service, REST will be closing our doors for the final time on November 30," wrote volunteer coordinator Kari Aosved. "Due to budget cuts on the state level, and several other funding sources reducing their funds as well, we are no longer able to afford to keep our doors open."
The shelter closes the day after lawmakers voted to restore funding to homeless shelters that had been cut 52 percent in the state budget. Unfortunately, the funding didn't come soon enough to save REST.
Other organizations are taking over REST's programs, with the women's shelter program taken over by Sarah's Circle and the men's shelter by North Side Housing and Supportive Services, and the permanent housing services by Housing Opportunities for Women.
Streetwise chronicled REST's financial woes back in July, when the magazine reported that REST needed to raise $200,000 by September. Michael O'Hara, REST's board president, talked about the organizations financial woes.
"REST cannot continue to do more with less as our costs have been rising," O'Hara said. "Our government funding contracts have been chronically late for years, and funding levels have been stable or dropping, while expenses continued to rise. We also no longer have a line of credit with the bank that took over when our bank failed."
Tuesday, state legislators voted to restore the $4.7 million that had been cut from emergency shelters and transitional housing programs through a $412.7 million supplemental human services appropriations bill that will also keep seven state mental health centers from closing.
The Chicago Department of Family and Supportive Services has already announced that the restoration of funding will be used to reinstate its overnight service team that provides transportation to shelters for those on the streets and 300 beds in 18 shelters.
But other providers are still at risk. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless recently released data showing that 55 percent of the agencies that administer homeless prevention grants--grant to individuals and families helping them stay housed and avoid homelessness--will run out of money by the end of the year. According to the coalition, the average family receives $916 to prevent it from becoming homeless, and 88 percent report that they're still in housing four months later.
Maura McCauley, senior director for housing at Heartland Alliance, said the funding urgently needs to be restored.
"Heartland served nearly 1,000 Chicago households with federal prevention funds in 18 months and this year with only the reduced state funds, we project serving 120," McCauley said.
A coalition of groups of homeless service providers around the state are asking for $5 million to restore those grants. Earlier in the year, advocates asked for a change in Illinois tax laws to prevent all social service cuts, but the idea has since been turned into a way to provide corporate tax breaks. State legislators told The Chicago Reporter that with state budget problems being so large, they could not guarantee any funding would be increased. But Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois, said that's not a good enough excuse.
"We acknowledge the ongoing budget problems at the state and federal level, but there seems no more basic role of government than to ensure that everyone has the resources to keep a roof over their head, especially as we head into winter” Palmer said.
Photo credit: Brad Montgomery
© Community Renewal Society 2011