Few communities were more enthusiastic about Mayor Rahm Emanuel's much-anticipated "Chicago's Plan to End Homelessness 2.0" than the LGBTQ community. Chicago is, after all, a safe haven for thousands of runaway LGBTQ youth from all over the Midwest.
And yet, in the wake of yesterday's unveiling of "Plan 2.0," Mayor Emanuel will likely receive backlash from the community that stood to gain so much from "Plan 2.0." The reason: Rahm outsourced 3-1-1 homeless outreach services to Catholic Charities, one of LGBTQ's biggest adversaries. Catholic Charities is the philanthropic arm of the Archdiocese of Chicago, which in recent years has positioned itself unequivocally against LGBTQ rights. It recently made big news in Illinois by closing most of its adoption centers, after Illinois required the agency to provide adoption and foster-care services to same-sex couples. The head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, recently compared the Pride Parade to a Ku Klux Klan gathering.
Through "Plan 2.0," Catholic Charitieswill receive an annual $2.5 million contract to form a response team of approximately 20 vans that will conduct a full range of mobile outreach services: transporting people to shelters, conducting health assessments, distributing emergency food kits, and being the first-responders during snow storms/heat waves/electrical outages.
While Catholic Charities has a strong history of homeless outreach, I seriously question whether it will fully accomodate the homeless LGBTQ community. Will their case workers be accepting of all sexual orientations? Will they provide HIV/AIDS testing (a staple of mobile outreach)? Will they be non-judgemental about other sexual issues, i.e. birth control and sexually transmitted diseases? Or will they preach abstinence? Will they provide referrals to Planned Parenthood or LGBTQ agencies like Center on Halsted and Broadway Youth Center?
The decision to privatize 3-1-1 emergency services is a smart one. It puts homeless outreach services in the capable hands of an experienced non-profit, while saving the city $1.7 million a year. That freed revenue allows the city to implement "Plan 2.0" at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The seven-year plan provides more housing for homeless youth and for homeless people with disabilities, as well as more "rapid rehousing services" - temporary financial assistance to families who have lost their homes so they can find new places to live.
According to this eNews Park Forest article, key objectives include:
"Increase job opportunities for people experiencing homelessness; create additional housing and services for homeless youth, so they don’t become the next generation of homeless adults; create a clear, consistent, and targeted crisis response system for households in crisis; create 1,972 new units of permanent supportive housing (a 29% increase) for homeless households with disabilities; and increase the number of homeless households receiving financial assistance and services to facilitate rapid rehousing from 737 to 2,768 (a 275% increase)."
Plan 2.0 is a more multi-faceted strategy than the original plan spearheaded by Mayor Daley in 2003, whose primary approach was increasing supportive housing and phasing out emergency shelters. But while Mayor Emanuel should be commended for being proactive about reducing the 100,000+ homeless population, his decision to put Catholic Charities at the front lines of homelessness could have far-reaching consequences. It will likely deter many homeless youth from using the mobile outreach vans, which are designed to not only provide emergency services, but also to serve as a gateway to Chicago's social service network that includes housing/employment/health services.
Thus, if a LGBTQ youth doesn't call 3-1-1 because of its affiliation to Catholic Charities, then he/she may be missing out on years of recovery services.