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Alison W. Bullock/MEDILL

Anthony Perkins waits for passersby who might help him by dropping some change in his cup.  Perkins has been homeless for more than 10 years.

Homeless in Chicago: How many are there and are shelters the solution?

by Alison W. Bullock
Jan 26, 2011


Alison W. Bullock/MEDILL

Volunteers gather at the Night Ministry Tuesday in preparation for the city's 2011 Point-in-Time homeless count.


Alison W. Bullock/MEDILL

A graph shows some of the City of Chicago's projected budget items that pertain to homelessness and prevention.  Click chart to enlarge.

Anthony Perkins shuffles along the corners of Jackson and State streets layered in sweatshirts and waving his cane to greet familiar faces that pass by.  On days when Perkins, 57, is able to raise enough money panhandling, he and his family can pay a woman on 39th Street to sleep in her apartment.  But the cold streets have been the only constant home Perkins has had for over 10 years, he says.  

The City of Chicago participated last night in a nationwide attempt to count the number of homeless on the street or in shelters.  Data from the biennial count is used to supplement the city census for those who may not have a permanent address.  

Volunteers conducted the count by canvassing the city and asking people who appeared to be homeless to answer questions on a survey.

The count is designed to give the most accurate possible number of people who are chronically homeless, said Stacey Anewishki, chief program officer for Featherfirst, a homeless assistance program. 
 She describes chronic homelessness as living without a home for a year or more and participating in the city’s homeless assistance programs frequently and for long periods of time.

Numbers from Tuesday’s count were still being tabulated Wednesday. Data from the 2009 count show 6,240 homeless were counted, 318 more than were counted in 2007.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the information to determine funding for programming for the homeless in the city, but some think Chicago is not meeting the  needs of those living on the street.

Malcolm Griffith, a volunteer at the count in Ravenswood, said  city government needs to do more to set up permanent housing options for people with no income.  

“Shelters, pantries and food kitchens are only temporary options for people who have no money coming in,” he said.

The City of Chicago budget summary boasts that an average of 90 percent of beds in homeless shelters are occupied every night.


Perkins said he doesn’t trust the shelters, specifically because they are so accepting of people.  

“I have had my things stolen there before, my clothes and everything,” he said.  

Perkins said the City should use abandoned buildings and spaces to build affordable housing for people to live permanently.  He is in the process of filling out paperwork to claim disability funds, which could give him about $700 per month – enough to make sure he has a place to stay each night, he says.  

In 2010, the City estimated a total of 1,800 homeless families were placed in permanent or more stable housing, and hoped to up that number to 2,019 in 2011. Also $940,000 is budgeted to use for emergency rent payment to prevent people from becoming homeless.


Additionally, the 2011 budget allocates $700,000 to grants and other expenses related to Chicago’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.