Sunday, July 5, 2009

Helping Those Who Live In The Parks

We like what the 48th Ward is doing to reach out to those who live in the park to help them escape homelessness. Can we expect similar action from the 46th Ward?

From Ald. Smith's latest newsletter (48th Ward):
"City "Sweeps" the Lakeshore Parks. To help ensure the cleanliness of the parks and to offer help to those who are living in them, Alderman Smith's office, together with the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Human Services have been conducting park "sweeps" after the parks close. Everyone encountered is told they can't sleep in the park and is offered medical care and social services support to help them transition out of homelessness. Trash left in the parks is cleaned up by the Chicago Park District. If there is a specific park location that needs attention, please e-mail"


  1. I would like to think that our alderman would join in this homeless outreach program, however, I am sure she would see it as harrassment of the homeless and not helping them.

    I see the parks in our ward filled with the homeless everyday. I see this program as giving them a fighting chance to get on their feet in a positive manner and showing them that people do care about them and want to see them healthy and able to provide for themselves once again after life has handed them a major blow. Just letting them camp out anywhere and everywhere they want and giving them a meal here and there is not showing you care at all. I am pleased to see Ald. Smith take a proactive stance! We all need to chanllenge and urge our alderman to join in this effort immediately.

  2. I don't agree with the headline for this article and I'm sorry that the UU editors see it that way. I think it's very open to debate if sweeping the parks of people sleeping in them in fact helps those people at that minute. Many homeless people are pretty well aware of the network of social services that are out there, and also of the rate at which shelters are closing and the resultant lack of places to sleep. At 11 at night, getting swept out of the park just means having to find a new place to spend the night, be it the el, a sidewalk/doorway, or not sleeping at all.

    If there is other illegal activity going on, or people are establishing semi-permanent encampments, of course the police should end that activity.

  3. "Alderman Smith's office, together with the Chicago Police Department and the Department of Human Services" ... waaaaaait a minute, the aldermen and the police can work together? really?? does miss schiller know about this?

    oh, and concerned citizen, maybe take a minute to recall your reading comprehension class in 5th grade before criticizing. the article talks about offering free medical assistance and helping these individuals transition out of homelessness. sounds quite helpful to me. your solution of ignoring these individuals living in the park and not offering help sounds like you prefer to KEEP them homeless. is that something you, as a "concerned citizen," advocate for?

  4. Well it certainly helps them realize that sleeping in a public park after close is not appropriate or tolerated by the community. Then they have a choice to make if they want to engage the "help" that I agree many are already aware of. If not, that choice can have unfortunate consequences. One of them is that they may be up for awhile looking for another dark corner to sleep in. Bottom line, it does not have to be this way if a person who finds himself or herself homeless wants to make different choices. Sometimes they do not, which I can respect but it is not ok to trash our parks just because you may want to spend half the night drinking alcohol and other safer places will not allow you to act this way.

  5. The park area around the Wilson and Marine Drive area is unsafe and unhealthy for adults and Children all the time with all the homeless who have turned this area into a camp grounds of the homeless. I am sick of getting thrown out of the lakefront afer 11PM from fishing when I paid for a license and I see numerous amounts of homeless that the police let sleep there all night. These people will never take responsibility and control of thier lifes. If they did they would not be there in the first place............

  6. I would like to see some follow up on what happens to the people who are moved out of the parks. Currently, social service agencies all around have had funding cut, are laying off employees, and are shutting down programs and terminating services with current clients. There are even mentally disabled people being forced out of the housing and onto the streets due to funding cuts. All the Department of Human Services is doing or will do in this situation with Ald. Smith is transport people to a homeless shelter and\or give them a piece of paper with information about different social service providers that will not able to absorb them. If the shelter is full, people will be left to walk the streets. I know, I worked at the Franciscan Shelter on the west side. DHS vans would always come by every day, drop people off and then drive off. The people would come to the shelter door thinking they could stay there only to be told that the shelter is full and good luck to ya. All that is being done by Ald. Smith here is to temporarily move people out of the park. And that might be enough to make some people happy, but I doubt it is really changing anything. There are no available social services for them, there is no available housing for them, and there are not enough shelter beds for them all. Chicago homeless shelters are turning people away everyday. I know because I get to be the one to tell people there is no room at a shelter for them all the time. No one likes to see people sleeping in the parks, but there are not any viable alternatives for the homeless, whose numbers are only increasing. What Ald. Smith is doing is only moving, not solving the problem. But that is not her fault as the resources to solve the problem simply do not exist.

  7. But that is not her fault as the resources to solve the problem simply do not exist.

    All the while, Daley sits on $1B in TIF funds (with Council's consent), and we're shelling out top dollar for WY units.

    .. just sayin'.

  8. Anyone needing shelter can either go to the nearest police station or hospital and request to be taken to a homeless shelter. A shelter will be found. I've worked at a number of different hospitals and the process is widely known.

    If DHS just leaves someone off at a shelter without first checking to see if that shelter is full (they are required to call first and confirm room), then the shelter should be reporting this so that the DHS worker can face corrective action.

    Regardless, camping out in the park is not the solution, and actually delays getting help. I agree with Uptown Vegetarian. If a person chooses not to accept help, they can refuse and face the consequences of a sleepless night. If a person has a mental illness that affects their judgment of safety for themselves or others, then any DHS worker knows the next steps to take as required by law.

    For many, it may seem heartless to move the homeless out of the park, but I don't find leaving them there to be a compassionate approach at all. Many of the chronic homeless I've encountered in my line of work are doing everything they can to avoid pain, whatever the cost. Sometimes increasing the pain by requiring an inconvenience serves to motivate them to get real help. As a social worker, I've seen a lot of success stories, but it's never involved letting the homeless sleep outside.

  9. Any DHS worker may know the next steps to take as required by law? Yes but that doesn’t end in the result some readers might expect. Unless I’m mistaken---and James can clarify this point--- there’s no provision in the law to override consent; you cannot force someone into a shelter any more than you can force a psych admit. Last I read the relevant statutes, there is only a small subset of exceptions that allow for forcible admissions but they are fairly uncommon. The most often exercised standard is, I think, when a person is deemed to be a danger to oneself or others.

  10. The DHS worker takes steps to commit someone to a psych unit if they are at risk for harming themselves or others. No homeless shelter is able to handle such a person nor should they ever attempt to try. Most psych admissions that I've witnesses start out without consent of the patient and then later work is done to make it a voluntary admission.

    My point about people sleeping in the park is that no one is doing anyone any favors when they tolerate people sleeping outdoors. Unfortunately, we sometimes need to create incentives for people to get help. I believe in a tough love approach with lots of compassion. When I witness help that is more enabling, it's usually from people who mean well but I believe they are hurting more than helping.

  11. While Jim is correct that the system is designed so that people needing shelter could go to the nearest police station or hospital to have DHS called to take them to a shelter, the reality is there are not enough shelter beds to meet the needs of homeless people and this system does not work in reality as well as it does on paper. I am not advocating for homeless people to be left to sleep outside, but there simply are not enough resources available to prevent it. Similar to this, state operated mental health hospitals for years have had a policy not to discharge patients to homelessness. And for years people were sent from Chicago Read MHC straight to REST and other homeless shelters. On paper, these patients were to be placed into secure housing from the hospital and were not. But to be fair to the social workers who planned the discharges, there just were not resources available to house everyone. That is currently the case with all those sleeping in parks. And it is not going to get better in the current economy. Social service agencies have laid off dozens and dozens of employees and cut services due to the current state budget woes. People seeking help are being turned away at the doors of some agencies. Some homeless outreach programs have been defunded. Want to help? Lobby your representatives in Springfield to restore funding to mental health and other social service providers and lobby for more homeless shelters.

  12. Agree the resources are scarce and the City's plan to address homelessness is in disarray.

    In the past when we had hundreds of people sleeping in the park at any given time, we were told by the former head of DHS that these were people who intentionally wanted to avoid shelters due to their desire to continue their drug and alcohol use. The services provided tended to enable their continued addiction. Again, untrained people meant well, but they made the problem worse.

    I'm all for more money to address this problem. I insist that these dollars be spent wisely and in a manner that abides by the use of best practices. I hope this financial mess forces more accountability on the use of our limited resources. The public will have a hard time supporting the need for more funds, however, when they observe close to 1/2 million dollars of their tax money being spent on single units of housing in the WY. Yes, they are both very different situations, but it does serve to distact the voters.

  13. Proper funding is one important part of a large and complicated picture but money alone solves nothing. Misunderstandings about how and why homelessness occurs, the concurrence of untreated mental health problems with drug addiction, and the profoundly stupid idea that people get what they deserve, all mix together to portray people in need as somehow less than.

    If there is no shelter bed available, if there are no proximate services available, it is unconscionable to sweep people out of the parks. I’d go so far as to describe it as self-righteous harassment. Is sleeping in the parks ideal? Of course not but neither is pushing people around and depriving them of what little peace they have when we have no peace to offer.

  14. FYI the 23rd district was doing this since 2005. This year it is not being done. If anyone remembers what it was like east of Weiss Hospital and other places east of LSD from Lawrence and Montrose.

    There is not many, if any, homeless sleeping in the parks south of Lawrence. The HEART Car doesn't even sweep the lakefront in the mornings anymore.

    Clardon Park the homeless don't enter the park until after 6am when the park is open. The problem there is the old Maryville. They sleep there and move into the park after 6am when they can't be kicked out of the park.

    Sorry to add this but Shiller has always been in favor of the 23rd district's HEART car and DHS sweeps of the parks at closing time in prior years.

  15. It's my understanding that the 48th Ward is coordinating efforts from the proper city departments to ensure that the homeless are treated humanely and appropriately. I haven't witnessed otherwise, and I know Mary Ann Smith's chief of staff (Doug Frazier) well enough to know he wouldn't allow it any other way.

    People who are homeless, with mental illness, and/or have drug dependence are still worthy of compassion. I hope no one is suggesting otherwise.

    The frustration, and I understand the frustration, is witnessing some (not all) social services be very bad neighbors to the community when they allow their clients to drink, loiter, aggressively panhandle, take over bus shelters, sleep in the park, etc in the neighborhood.

    I have heard many social services state they can't control their clients' behavior. My answer is yes they can ensure their clients behave appropriately and it can still be done in a compassionate manner. If they can't, then maybe we need to fund another social service that can.

    As far as where Ald. Shiller stood on park sweeps in 2005, I really can't say. I can say that I was on a 46th Ward Homeless Task Force that went to DAC meetings in 2002. The task force wanted to give out tents and blankets to the homeless in the park and I strongly opposed it because it went against all my training as a social worker. I represented UCC and was eventually kicked off the task force for wanting to have the park curfew enforced back then.

  16. The suggestion by James that social service agencies can and should be able to control what their service recepients do in public or that they 'allow' their clients to drink, loiter, etc. is ludricous and intellectually dishonest. Most know that James has political ambitions and it looks like he is pandering to those in the community who frequently complain about the number of social services in Uptown and also blame them for not doing enough. He knows he has a receptive audience for this garbage just like Sarah Palin knows she has a receptive audience for her accusing the media for unfairly targeting her.

    But his suggestions are pure bunk and if he himself were in charge of all the social service agencies, he would never be able do what he is suggesting 'good neighbor' social services should do. But he will have a recptive audience with the 'blame social services' theme.

    Bottom line, the homeless are no different from any of the rest of us in that they have free will, and outside of institution such as jails or hospitals, NO ONE, can control their actions. Who reading this could not, if they chose, go sit at a bus shelter and crack open a beer? or go sleep in the park? Or go urinate in an alley? I could do any of that right now and no one could stop me. And yet with the homeless, somehow social service agencies are supposed to be able to control what their clients do when they leave their provider's office?

    Social workers can try to work with clients to find them appropriate places to sleep at night, can work with clients to find appropriate places to spend their time during the day, can work with clients on getting off drugs or alcohol, but they can not force them to do anything. It is a free country and people have free will, that is just the way it is.

    James clearly has a different agenda, and being honest about things is not it.

  17. Suzanne, you make very good points in your post. It is a simple fact that there are more homeless people in Chicago than there are shelter beds to accomodate them. It is also a simple fact that human beings need to sleep. So what are homeless people who can't find a shelter bed to do? Are they expected to never sleep? To just spend all of their time walking the city streets to avoid loitering 24/7? Unfortunately some homeless people solve the problem of not having a place to sleep by going to a hospital ER and telling them that they are feeling suicidal or are hearing voices telling them to kill people. When they do this, hospitals have no choice but to admit them, and then they have a few days off the streets in a warm bed. I know, I have had many homeless people tell me they do this through the years. And fortunately, it is a small percentage who abuse the system like this as these costs paid for by the taxpayers. Sleeping in the parks is a much cheaper alternative for the taxpayer. People would have you believe there are perfect answers for all of this, but there isn't. People, even homeless people, will always need to sleep, and there is not likely to be enough shelter space for all of them anytime soon. There is no perfect answer to address the sleeping needs of homeless people that does not involve homeless sleeping in the public way.

  18. I don’t think we need to whack James for having political ambition; I’ve been known to dip my toe in that pond. Rather, I think we need to be vigilant about telling the truth to one another. It’s pointless to discuss any issue if we aren’t armed with real and relevant facts. It’s pointless to discuss any aspect of social services if we deny the real boundaries that separate ideal choices from available ones, or worse, if we distance ourselves from the people we say we want to serve.

  19. Suzanne, it is not my intention to whack James or anyone else for having political ambitions as there is not a single thing wrong with that. It was the lack of vigilance in telling the truth about social services being able to control their clients behaviors out in public or 'allowing' their clients to engage in inappropriate behaviors that was the focus of my whacking Jim.

  20. Please allow me to explain why I believe social services should be good neighbors to their community.
    • First of all, I’m not saying anything that I didn’t do myself when I helped found and run a homeless shelter back in the 1980’s for men living with HIV. These were men who also had a history of injecting drug use.
    • Secondly, there are social services that already put into practice being a good neighbor: one good example is Evangeline Booth Lodge at 4800 N. Marine Drive. Lakeview Shelter on Addison has also done a very good job as well.
    • Lastly, for all the many years I've worked in social services, my places of employment always knew about an expectation to be respectful of the surrounding community, and we knew if our clients acted inappropriately, it would be a bad reflection on us. Many places I’ve worked relied on the local community for needed volunteers so we took being a good neighbor seriously.

    I agree there are some serious problems with funding. I’ve also learned over the years that social services that become very good neighbors with the surrounding community seem to do much better at getting needed help than those that alienate and accuse neighbors of hating poor people.

    I’ll close with this: Being an advocate for people with mental illness hits home with me and my 7 brothers and sisters. When I was growing up, my dad committed suicide as a result of untreated mental illness. So, I take being an advocate very seriously. I also take being an advocate for the entire community very seriously, and for those who really know me, my advocacy for the community started decades ago and long before I ever remotely thought about political office. I wouldn’t be this driven for these many years otherwise.

  21. James, I don’t think anyone disagrees with the idea that social service agencies should be good neighbors. That is the normative ideal. The positive reality is, as we all know, sometimes very different. Sometimes it’s because agencies are poorly managed. Other times it’s because they are charged with unmanageable challenges.

    The contention here is focused on the latter. This isn’t a question about whether social service agencies should be good neighbors but whether they possess the ability to control individuals and, even, mitigate need as suggested by current levels of funding and Aldermanic press releases.

    Speaking of current levels of funding, the shelters that served people with HIV had, relatively speaking, better funding streams in the 1980s than they do today. The shelters that serve this population and others with debilitating health conditions today are worse off than they would have been twenty years ago. Does this affect their ability to be good community relations managers? You bet.

    This discussion, like many on Uptown Update, reflects two basic operating themes of governance: What do we value and how will we fund and deploy resources to maximize the public good? It’s a devil’s puzzle because even when you get the answers right, perfect the right balance that achieves the most good, there will always be something left wrong.

  22. It was my experience running the homeless shelter that we would never take on more than what we could handle. It wasn't fair to our clients or to the neighborhood.

    Suzanne, you bring up HIV services back in the 1980's. The problem with HIV back then was that social services were clustered on the Northside and very little was available on the Southside... where our shelter was located. It appeared like services were plentiful, but they were only plentiful in one small area of the City.

    Faced with terrible shortages, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) was formed. It became a broker of services for people with HIV. No one could receive social services unless it was coordinated through a case manager. That model of care ended up becoming a godsend because it stopped the duplication of scarce resources and it provided the needed framework for more accountability and coordination of services. All training of case managers went through AFC so that care was of the same standard. AFC also brokered services so that no one agency was overloaded with clients.

    AFC also went one step further and became a clearing house for agencies to obtain funding. When this happened, there was no longer a cluster of agencies in one area, and instead, more work was done to spread out the services to all areas of the city.

    This same approach is suppose to be happening with the homeless. The idea is to avoid a saturation of services in any one area because it's not good for the client, the neighborhood residents, and the social service agency. When that occurs, you start seeing "unmanageable" situations. Uptown is an example of what goes wrong when you cluster a lot of services in one small area.

    I'm not saying close down the social services in Uptown. I'm not saying social services are bad, and despite the lies said by others about me, I have never said any group of people was undeserving of compassion and care. We're faced with a terrible problem that has been intensified by very poor planning. A now fragile economy has made this problem worse than it's already been.

    Given that situation, and given that no neighborhood should ever ethically be responsible for the entire solution, I think it's fair to place some expectations of the current social services to be good neighbors and put some effort into monitoring their clients.... just as I did, just as Evangeline Lodge does, just as Lakeview Shelter does, and a few too many other social services within the 46th Ward.

    We need government leadership to create a system that can better respond to the needs of the homeless that's coordinated, based on the use of best practices, and more evenly distributed. Money is only part of the answer. At this point in time, there has been much criticism about the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness' efforts and I know last year they were in jeopardy of losing some federal funds because of it. There is still a strong lack of coordinated services; there is still duplication of services; and there are still services occurring that are not based on best practice principles. As you can probably surmise, politics got in the way of making it work.

    At this point in time, I'm hoping that this financial crisis forces us to rely on the solutions similar to what AFC produced. AFC has its problems, but there's a lot that homeless providers could learn from them.

  23. James, I don’t think this debate is about your experience or your integrity. What we’re doing here is grappling with a level of clarity.

    As for services being clustered, yes, they are. Typically that’s not for pernicious reasons but because it makes sense to deliver the services where people are and where people will use them. Early in the history of HIV, you couldn’t have sited a clinic or shelter in Winnetka, Joliet or the Southside if you wanted to. The stigma drove policy almost as much as the science did. You remember.

    You’re right, we need to build better systems to respond to the needs of the homeless. That’s what AFC did. But it wasn’t an off the shelf solution, it was evolution and even now they have forward goals. As good as they are they can improve too. But let’s be clear, the creation of AFC was, in part, because people’s understanding of HIV had matured. The resistance, the vitriol, the blaming ebbed and as it did, a public health model was able to emerge.

    That leap still hasn’t happened in people’s minds when it comes to homelessness. There is still a deep and troubling undercurrent of blame that prevents us as a community from responding appropriately. We deliver sanctimony and half-measures. We say more than we serve. And then we blame social workers and social service agencies when, despite their best efforts, they are unable or unwilling to violate free will or even the law to sanitize our experience of homelessness.

    Even good agencies cannot prevent all displeasing externalities attendant to homelessness. That some agencies can is a tribute to their management, yes, but also to their clients. It doesn’t mean their model can be replicated everywhere. If one shelter serves primarily displaced veterans and another first presenters, many of whom are drug or alcohol dependent, there are going to be differences seen and felt on the street.

  24. James, no one needs you to explain why you think agencies should be good neighbors (not that you really did anyhow, but it would have been stating the obvious if you had). As Suzanne wrote and I am sure absolutely everyone under the sun would agree, that is the normative ideal. That is really a moot point and sounds like more pandering to me as well as a lot of self promotion going on in your posts. The real point is, and you have avoided it like a seasoned politician, is your claim that social service agencies can control their clients behavior in public or that they 'allow' their clients to behave inappropriately, and this is an absolute falsehood. You have
    (not so) skillfully turned your rather specific assertion about agencies being able to control their clients behaviors in public and failing to do so to a rather vague one about agencies being 'good neighbors'. I take that to mean you no longer stand by your earlier statement that agencies allow inappropriate behavior or that they can 'ensure' their clients behave appropriately in the public way. I am also curious, which social service agencies have accused their neighbors of hating the poor? That came straight from your posting.

  25. Kevin, you need to stick to the issues and keep away from personal attacks. Disagree all you want, but keep on topic. This is NOT about James's political career, it's about the homeless.

  26. Caring neighbor, tell that to James. I know I've been a little harsh in my comments but I am concerned about what I am seeing going on here. James clearly is presenting himself as an experienced authority on social services and issues involving the homeless to the readers of this blog. And no doubt he does have a lot of experience, as do I and probably a lot of others who post here (none of which, by the way makes either James or myself right in our assertions. And it would be refreshing to see more people admit that experience does not equal knowing the right answers - think recent national elections).

    My concern is when he sells himself as a knowing expert to the blog audience and then makes irresponsible and false claims that the average reader might just take at his word, for afterall, look at all the names he has dropped and things he has done. I confronted James directly on these specific claims and he sidestepped the issue and obscured it with some vague talk about being a good neighbor. I would prefer a discussion based on very well reasoned and critical thinking striving for truth, and not the specious reasoning I have seen here.

    The point I most want to make is that James is flat out wrong in stating that social service agencies 'allow' their clients to behave inappropriately in the public way, or that they can 'control' or 'ensure' or 'monitor' their clients behaviors away from the program. These are all words James has used and they are wrong, but when he dilutes it all down to agencies needing to be 'good neighbors', well duh, of course, who wouldn't agree with that. But that doesn't mean 'good neighbors' can 'control', 'ensure', or 'monitor' their clients at all times and I think James knows that, so it leads me to question his motivations.

    Beside all of that, I would like to know how anyone with any certainty can say which person they see behaving inappropriately in public is involved with a social service agency that is 'allowing' said behavior. I think, though do not assert, that most of them are not connected with any government funded provider.

    I have asserted many clear and specific points in my posts here and no one has been refute any of them, though the manner in which I have confronted James is certainly fair game for questioning.

  27. AA has a really wonderful tradition of "Principles, not personalities." Disagree about social services all you want. But don't try to turn the discussion into a personal attack. That's all.

  28. Suzanne, I agree the leap hasn’t happened and it’s really sad.

    I realize that social services cannot prevent every single inappropriate action coming from their clients. At our shelter, we quickly addressed problems out of a sense of obligation to nearby residents because we viewed ourselves as guests to the neighborhood. The general public may not understand how that can occur, but most people have little understanding of the skills that licensed social workers have with addressing inappropriate behavior in a compassionate manner. Kevin and I will just have to disagree on what’s within the skills set of a good social worker.

    While social services cannot address every single inappropriate incident, they can take the needed steps to address problematic trends that affect the quality of life for all residents living in the neighborhood. They can attend CAPS meetings on a regular basis as some already do. They can join their local block club. They can participate in Clean & Green with the other neighbors. They can take all the necessary steps to build a relationship with the community residents that many other social services already do elsewhere. When residents witness that, social services can expect that undercurrent of blame to dissipate quite a bit.

    It’s rather interesting that I started becoming an advocate for the disenfranchised at the first Christmas after my dad’s suicide. Rather than get a lot of presents that Mom knew she couldn’t afford, she had us pool our resources and give food and presents to a single mom and her kids living in extreme poverty. That had more of a profound impact on me than my dad’s death.

    Forty plus years later, I’ve remained an advocate for the disenfranchised and it was only when I moved to Uptown that I started being accused of being disingenuous about my life’s work. My values about being an advocate for the disenfranchised have been consistent since I was child over 40 years ago, yet I never heard I was a bigot until I moved here. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.

    Maybe blaming the residents and dosing them with Ad Hominem attacks isn’t working anymore. Maybe it never did.