Evanston considers programs to aid homeless families

Sophia Bollag, Reporter

In its first meeting of the new year, the Evanston Housing and Homelessness Commission considered several proposals to provide aid for homeless families and families at risk of becoming homeless.

The Commission focused on a proposal for tenant-based rental assistance, presented by Paul Selden of Connections for the Homeless at its Friday morning meeting. 

In his presentation, Selden outlined a “rental subsidy program” he said would provide financial aid for residents in need.

“Nationally … tenant-based rental assistance is widely discussed and rarely implemented,” said Selden, the Connections executive director. “So go Evanston.”

The program will target homeless families with children in Evanston/Skokie District 65, which currently has roughly 230 homeless students, he said. Families would be placed in existing buildings, and the program would not require the construction of costly new infrastructure, Selden said.

Sarah Flax, the city’s housing and grants administrator, said the program would provide funds for an underserved group.

“I really want to stress that I think this is a gap-filler program,” Flax said. “We have not been able to adequately address the needs of (homeless) families with children.”

The city would be able to put roughly $1 million into the program if it is approved, city housing planner Mary Ellen Poole said.

“If we would do something like this we would be really cutting-edge,” Poole said.

Selden said the program would ideally be implemented in June and would attempt to head at least three families per month. However, he said both goals were tentative.

“We don’t know how difficult this is going to be,” he said.

The Commission will vote on the Connections proposal at its next meeting on Feb. 22. If the Commission approves the proposal, it will have to be reviewed and approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before it can be implemented.

Two other proposals, one from the Community Partners for Affordable Housing and one from Housing Options for the Mentally Ill in Evanston, Inc., were also mentioned at the meeting. Neither were discussed in detail because they had already been presented at the previous meeting on Dec. 13.

The Commission, formerly the Housing Commission, recently expanded to deal with issues of homelessness in Evanston in compliance with a recommendation made by the Homeless Task Force’s 2011 report. The Commission is currently considering the three proposals in its attempt to carry out the recommendations in the report.