Lack of state budget reduces social service resources, operations for city’s homeless

Rishika Dugyala, Reporter

Illinois’s state budget impasse has led to a reduction of resources and social services for Evanston’s homeless this holiday season.

Some nonprofit organizations have had to cut or alter many of their programs, which affects their homeless clients. Connections for the Homeless is one such group that has been hit particularly hard by the budget crisis, said Sue Loellbach, Connections’ director of development.

“A lot of places continue to make referrals to other organizations because it’s easier than saying, ‘I’m sorry, there really isn’t anything in the community to help you,’” Loellbach said.

“But there are fewer and fewer places to refer people to now.”

Loellbach said that because Connections has not received sufficient funding from the state, the organization had to shut down its drop-in center, a program that allowed the homeless to come in off the streets to pick up food and clothes, take showers, use technology and see a mental health worker or case manager.

When temperatures drop, she said double the usual number of people seek the center’s daily services. So far this year, the suspension of center operations has resulted in a loss of services for roughly 600 people seeking immediate help.

Connections’ homelessness prevention program has also been negatively affected because the organization has not received any of the state payments it was due, Loellbach said. Since July, Connections has not been able to give households financial grants, financial literacy training or case management to avoid eviction and homelessness.

Connections is able to keep some of its prevention services afloat with money from Evanston’s Emergency Solutions Grant program, but the fund is limited and quickly depleting, Loellbach said. Given the circumstances, she said there is no effective way to replace or compensate for the homelessness prevention program.

“I think we’re going to see more need for homelessness prevention all the way around,” Loellbach said. “The (budget) cuts are affecting mental health services, domestic violence services, and all of those things make people less stable and less able to manage their rents, so I think we’re going to see more people in all of our programs.”

Not all social service organizations are affected by the lack of a state budget. Colette Allen, director of Family Focus Evanston, said because Family Focus is not reliant on state funding and the minimal amount it does usually receive has been passed by the state budget, the organization is able to continue its services.

Similarly, organizations like Interfaith Action of Evanston, which does not receive government money, has not directly felt the impact of the budget impasse. However, because Connections and other groups have reduced programming available, Interfaith has had to accommodate more people for longer periods of time than they usually would, Interfaith director Susan Murphy said.

All of Interfaith’s centers are open Monday through Friday and throughout the holidays to better serve the homeless, who Murphy said are significantly affected during this season.

“The holidays are a really hard time for people who are not able to be with their families,” she said. “And I guess that’s everybody, but especially the homeless people.”

Going forward, one of the most important services the homeless will need is the opportunity to see mental health professionals, Loellbach said. Especially during the holidays, people tend to believe their situations will resolve themselves. But when at the end of the season they are still in a bad place, their spirits can take a drastic turn for the worse, Loellbach said.

Due to the budget restraints, Loellbach said organizations like Connections are left to partner with groups that specialize in mental health to provide counseling to the homeless, as they are unable to retain their own mental health professionals to better and more immediately help their specific clients.

In addition to coordinating with other organizations to provide services, nonprofits have to draft multiple versions of their annual budgets and determine how and when to lay off some of their workers, Loellbach said.

“This is just a huge, huge cost in time and resources that nonprofits are spending just trying to figure out how to respond to the impact,” she said. “That’s clearly taking away from them being able to provide services and them being focused on what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s really destructive I think to the whole sector.”

Even some of Connections’ holiday-specific programs remain successful largely because of the private revenue the organization brings in, Loellbach said. Many individual donors participate in the Gift of Giving, a Connections’ operation in which donors try to fulfill participants’ wish lists. The organization also gives out donated bags of food as well as extra turkeys.

“If anything, I think we have more people than usual wanting to donate things for the holidays because they’ve heard about some of the other cutbacks, so they’re trying to help all they can,” Loellbach said.

Also, Interfaith Action has seen a large drop in the number of people who come in on holidays compared to other weekdays, Murphy said.

“Thankfully, many do have families that they can go and spend time with,” Murphy said. “And for those who still need help, all of the soup kitchens in Evanston are done by volunteers and that’s pretty amazing.”  

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