Chicago is America’s fourth-largest metropolis that houses people of different cultures, ethnicities, races, and socioeconomic classes, including an estimated 80,000 people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. Although in Chicago the unhoused population was in decline, in the wake of Covid-19, we have seen homelessness increase. Now displacement is a longstanding matter that has bothered institutions and corporations for years. It is for many an inevitable part of a capitalistic society, and the “winners'' in our society see it as a nuisance to the neighborhood, to property value, and to “peace”. We have consistently denied the homeless population their deserved respect in our policy and in over-policing. BlackRoots Alliance believes that has to change. Our communities will be safer when individuals experiencing homelessness receive the love and humanity they deserve. We support the Chicago Homeless Union and their political pushes which include improved access to affordable housing.
Homelessness in and of itself is criminalized especially in Chicago: 25% of homeless people nationwide report being arrested for a crime related to their displacement status. Chicago’s anti-peddling laws in particular, and zoning laws restrict individuals experiencing homelessness and remove them from urban areas they consider their homes. It also limits their ability to make money. Overrepresented in Cook County jail, people experiencing homelessness are often a part of the vicious homelessness-prison pipeline that makes it even harder for individuals to transition to independent living. While the most recent criminal justice reform bill has named this injustice, in order to understand Chicago homelessness you must understand Chicago’s failed plan for transformation and the harm that has already been caused. The plan for transformation tore down most housing projects and evicted nearly 20,000 public housing residents from 1997- 2004. Nearly half of evicted residents have not been provided replacement housing.
Some communities continue to thrive or become revitalized. Others are left to make do with what they have on hand. Those neighborhoods are no stranger to their residents experiencing layoffs, deportations, incarcerations, tragedies, or misfortunes. Since assistance is built on a first-come-first-serve basis, folks in transition have few options when finding affordable, stable housing. People experiencing homelessness often couch hop between friends and family, live in shelters, sleep in cars, or survive on the streets. For those populations living in tent communities, safety is often a luxury rather than a reality. And due to the ways in which employment requires you to have a permanent address, even when assistance is received, securing a job presents challenges when experiencing homelessness.
BlackRoots Alliance offers ideas and not exact solutions. We aren’t experts or thought-leaders on how to end homelessness. As an organization striving for Black liberation, we stand in solidarity with homeless communities, and with the Chicago Homeless Union. We believe that community safety should be dictated by those living there, including people experiencing housing insecurity. We need to be offering support for those in transition. We understand that present conditions need to be rectified so future experiences are changed for the better. It's time for all community members to be the initial point of contact when decision-making tables are being created. For far too long, those who are impacted most are left out of conversations regarding their futures.