Chronic Homelessness in Chicago Area Increasing, Survey Finds

Nationwide, local media reports have cited increases in 2009 homeless counts, with the many of the reported increases located on the East and West coasts. But the Midwest is beginning to see the effects of the recession on its own homeless numbers, a recent survey conducted by the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County finds.

In January, the Chicago-based group organization found only minor changes in the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless people. Indeed, the number has fallen since the previous survey conducted in 2007. However, the survey also found a slight increase in the number of chronically homeless individuals — those who have been homeless for at least a year or have experienced four or more episodes of homelessness in the past three years. In suburban Cook County, chronic homelessness has risen more than 10 percent since 2007.

In addition, the Chicago Community Trust, which has been tracking early indicators of the recession, found that since March 2008 the number of individuals served by food pantries in the Chicago area has increased by 39 percent, while the number of phone calls to the Homelessness Prevention Call Center increased by 44 percent over the same period.

"Previous nationwide homeless counts have shown us that homelessness numbers can lag one to two years behind economic trends, leading us to believe that we may begin to see some significant increases in the general population in the very near future," said Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Suburban Cook County alliance. "Now is the time to take action. With reliable data in hand and an expanded strategic plan, the alliance is preparing to face increased need in these difficult times."

"Worst Yet to Come for Suburban Cook County Homeless." Chicago Community Trust Press Release 06/19/2009.