The recent polar vortex was a historic moment for Chicagoans. The weather was dangerously cold, Chicago Public Schools were closed, most businesses and colleges were closed and mail wasn’t delivered. But, the community that undeniably suffered the most was the homeless community.
Chicago has a huge homeless population. There are about 80,000 homeless individuals in the city, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. With temperatures dropping drastically below 0 degrees, those sleeping on the streets don’t have the luxury of staying inside the warmth of a home. They have to seek shelter elsewhere to avoid the dangerous weather conditions and the effects, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
With the impending detriment on the homeless community, Chicagoans banded together to help those affected. City officials announced Chicago Park District field houses and Chicago Public Libraries were opened to the public as warming centers during their business hours. City officials also recommended citizens call 311 to locate the nearest warming center in their area.
Citizens handed out single ride CTA passes and care packages to homeless individuals to prepare for the weather. But, it wasn’t just Chicagoans who were concerned. Social media feeds were cluttered with resources and lists of open places that served as warming centers.
While these solutions were helpful, they weren’t permanent. While Chicago and its inhabitants banded together to help those on the streets, it doesn’t address the issue of Chicago’s large homeless population. After all, just sharing resources on an Instagram story isn’t going to change deeply rooted issues.
These quick fixes and efforts are important. However, there should be better treatment of homeless individuals and those facing homelessness year round. Chicago should work toward affordable housing and implementing rehabilitation and mental health services, so the homeless population can begin to decrease in size. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty said that a lack of affordable housing is one of the leading causes of homelessness.
The Chicago Affordable Requirement Ordinance (ARO) has fallen behind on its goal to generate 1,200 affordable units by 2015. The ARO became an official law in 2003, and, according to the Sun-Times, has only generated 334 affordable units as of July 2018, 816 units short of its goal.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it’s estimated that over 50 percent of those living in supportive housing programs have faced substance abuse or mental health hurdles that prevented them from retaining permanent, stable living conditions.
With the Chicago mayoral election upon us, Chicagoans should consider electing a mayor and city officials who’ll increase affordable housing and provide more long-lasting solutions to homelessness in the city. The city has a plethora of great resources for homeless individuals to rely on; however, it must pursue more permanent solutions to better assist those without a roof over their head.