It’s de ja vu for Chicago homeless advocates – and thousands of Illinois residents who are homeless or in danger of losing shelter. Homeless programs are among social services slated to be cut in Pat Quinn's budget proposal — again.
It’s de ja vu for Chicago homeless advocates – and thousands of Illinois residents homeless or in danger of losing shelter.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, released last week, calls for $4.7 million in cuts to the just over $9 million in state outlays for homeless shelters, emergency housing, and transportation to shelters. The suggested cuts follow Quinn’s proposed FY 2012 budget – which also outlined $4.7 million in reductions to homeless programs.
Homeless advocates successfully worked with state lawmakers to undo these cuts in the final FY 2012 budget that passed the General Assembly. They must try again in this spring’s legislative session. “It was inexplicable to us after they had just restored it three months ago,” says Bob Palmer, policy director for Housing Action Illinois.
Less money for the homeless is part of an overall budget written amid much hand wringing in Springfield over the state’s short and long-term deficits, and concerns about the costs of public employee pensions and Medicaid.
It is an open question what Quinn can really do – whether the governor could have both addressed deficit concerns (caused by factors that long preceded Quinn’s tenure), and adequately provided for needed services to the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Regardless, the governor has proposed, and the Illinois General Assembly will probably pass, a budget that makes key changes to the social safety net.
Cuts to social service programs add up over time. For example, the Healthcare and Family Services budget was $16.86 billion in FY 2011, and it is proposed to be $14.76 billion for the next fiscal year.
And this agency’s proposed budget could face further cuts, depending on what additional Medicaid reductions Quinn proposes.
Homeless services, meanwhile, are often in budget peril. A Chicago Coalition for the Homeless study found that shelter programs served 40,542 people in Illinois in FY 2011 – but 45,673 people were turned away.
Julie Dworkin, policy director for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, noted that Chicago gets $2.2 million of this $4.7 million slated for elimination. “There was a really concerted effort by advocacy groups and the city to restore funding last year,” Dworkin says.
At stake for Chicago is funding for 18 shelters that provide a home for people up to 120 days, as well as programs, including those that link people to employers. Also, a loss of funding would cut overnight emergency services that transport the homeless to shelters.
Another area of concern to Palmer and Dworkin is money for the Homeless Prevention Program. The program is “flat funded” in Quinn’s proposal, which means it gets the same amount of money as last year, $1.5 million, not adjusted for inflation.
But a year prior, money for the program was cut by roughly 80 percent, after federal stimulus cash ran out.
“The program gives one-time grants to individuals who are at risk of homelessness of less than $1,000,” explains Palmer, who argues that the program has proven to be straightforward and effective.
In addition to homeless programs, advocacy groups, such as Voices for Illinois Children, are also worried about cuts to child-care like youth services and after school programs.
“We are especially disturbed by additional reductions in funding for human services programs that have already been subject to harmful budgets over the past three years,” said Voices for Illinois Children president Kathy Ryg in a statement.
One major area of cuts comes from the closing of two mental health facilities – at Tinley Park and Rockford, and two developmentally disabled centers – at Jacksonville and Centralia. Quinn would like patients at these facilities to be transferred to smaller, community care clinics.
AFSCME Local 31 public employees union, along with a group of unions and community groups with the name Allied Community Services, has pilloried the cuts. The coalition points out that they will result in the layoffs of more than 1,000 state workers and disrupt the lives of families who have made a decision to put their loved ones in large state facilities.
However, some disability rights groups think moving mental health and developmentally disabled patients is long overdue. “Institutional care traditionally deprives people of independence and participating in communities,” says Gary Arnold, spokesman for Access Living. “Community-based services also cost less money so we view it as a ‘win-win.”
Arnold, though, acknowledges the need to give families a choice of where they receive care. Also, the state might not have the resources and manpower to make community care work.
“We have to be very cautious here,” Arnold says.