Aldermen on Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday demanded that non-profit agencies receiving city grants to help the homeless provide more information about their activities.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she was unable to get information about why a long-time Evanston resident with two young children hadn’t been able to get housing assistance and now has been forced to move to the west side of Chicago where, she said, she’s surrounded “by drug addicts and criminals.”

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he’d met earlier in the day with Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Paul Selden, executive director of Connections for the Homeless

Jean-Baptiste said he was frustrated that although the city provides much of the agency’s funding, it’s “not being treated as a true partner” in doing the work.

He said the group has refused to provide city officials who have inquired about why someone was denied assistance any information.

“The response was that the information is confidential. Well, we have to audit them,” Jean-Baptiste said, “the information shouldn’t be confidential to the city.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said it was shocking that city officials don’t have such information. “That’s a serious disconnect. That’s just something that’s not acceptable,” Fiske said.

Referring to the case of the woman mentioned by Holmes, Fiske added, “We should take care of our own, but instead we’ve apparently driven her out of Evanston.”

Holmes said, “The money comes to the city, people know that. They think the city ought to know how it’s being spent. We’ve got to get that accountability back.”

Steve Griffin, director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, which manages the grant program, said that Connections has now agreed “to put on a new staff person just to deal with these case calls.”

He said his staff is working to completely review the program, under which the city distributes more than $800,000 in federal grant funds a year, and would provide follow up reports at each of the committee’s next several meetings.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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6 Comments

  1. Agencies

    Has the city helped to alleviate the problem this winter as it did last year? Connections can only serve what space and funding permit.

  2. Non-profit can be another

    Non-profit can be another name for "racket." I used to rent quarters with a non-profit agency serving Evanston families. One day an inspector from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services showed up wanting to check out the "day care center." Guess what–there was no day care center, never had been.

  3. “Drug addicts and criminals”, who is kidding who?

    Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she was unable to get information about why a long-time Evanston resident with two young children hadn't been able to get housing assistance and now has been forced to move to the west side of Chicago where, she said, she's surrounded "by drug addicts and criminals." I recall the police were recently honored for cleaning up a block on Jackson Street in the 5th ward which had over 1,200 police calls in one year. Where did this woman and her children live before? If they had no money, they had to be living in one of the worst areas in Evanston ( 5th ward )- surrounded by "drug addicts and criminals! Public officials need to face some reality!

  4. Trickle-down theory

    What a deal. The federal government takes money from us in the form of taxes, and then some of that money trickles down through several layers of bureaucracy to the people who need it. It would be interesting to know what percentage of that money actually ends up being used by the people for whom it is intended.

    1. Keep the money here instead, in the first place

      State and city officials always complain about not getting back as much as they send to Washington and when they get grants think it is 'free money' they can build sculputres with. These officials should instead get Congress to lower taxes on a Federal level and instead tax residents for projects they really feel are needed. That way everyone knows what they are getting taxed for and can better determine if it is a good project. Why send money to Washington so Congress can send dribbles back and expect us to be thankful for their generosity. When we really know they use those grants to get themself re-elected.

  5. Connections’ Focus: Affordable Housing Shortage

    In response to this article, I would like to share that those of us serving the community all wish that we could do more with what we have at our disposal.

    No doubt as the City cuts back services, aldermen and the Mayor are increasingly besieged by people whom the City simply can’t help. It must be all the more frustrating when a program that seemed to have so much promise as HPRP (Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program–the federal program referred to in the article) fails to live up to that promise.

    Connections for the Homeless shares this frustration when we hear complaints from people whom Connections is unable to help. Having said that, it is important to clear up some misunderstandings that are apparent in the posting regarding the Human Services Committee hearing Monday evening.

    First, I would like to clarify that Connections does share information with the City frequently and adheres very strictly to the reporting and audit requirements of the HPRP program. Every month the agencies involved in this program meet and discuss specific cases with City staff.

    Every month we send a report to the City with a detailed breakout of the month’s expenditures by client, and we report quarterly to the City on overall program activity. At the end of the first year of the program, the City conducted a complete audit of our files, and I presume will do so at the end of the second and third years.

    While the monthly detailed reports carry only the service number of the client and not the name, we have always been happy to provide details about a client if a City official ever sees something amiss in those reports. We use client numbers instead of names to insure client confidentiality, following common practices by agencies that are governed by HIPAA and other laws.

    We do this to limit access to client specifics to only those who need to know. This is because confidentiality is key to Connections’ ability to help those in need. When people come to us for help, we enter into a confidentiality agreement with them. They agree to let us enter certain information into a database; we promise to limit access to that information only to those who are actively engaged in helping them.

    Those with access sign a non-disclosure agreement saying they will not share the information publicly. This is a very common policy and it is highly unusual for any social service agency to share private information about individual clients without a signed consent by the client. Note that, several years ago, Adelita Hernandez, a City employee, had full access to the database. Since she changed roles, however, no one else has been trained to use the database or signed the agreement.

    A second misunderstanding has to do with the promise of the HPRP program. Over the program’s 3 years, the City of Evanston will receive $800,000 total—not $800,000 for each of 3 years, as indicated in Evanston Now.

    Moreover, not all of this money is for distribution. Some pays for City staff to monitor the program. Some pays for the database and reporting required by the federal government. Some pays for case management, and some pays for teaching financial literacy and planning to recipients of the funds.

    The amount available for distribution is somewhere between $500,000 and $600,000, which is somewhere between $160,000 and $200,000 a year; and even that gets divided further between those who are facing eviction and those who are already homeless.

    With an average contribution to each household of a little over $3,000, this doesn’t go very far. At the meeting on Monday night, Alderman Holmes expressed concern about a family that had to relocate to Chicago. I wish that that were the only family that has had to make this move, but in truth we have faced this many times over the last two years, and as time goes on, many other Evanstonians will share the same fate.

    But the reason for this is not the lack of HPRP money, although a much larger grant might mitigate some of this. Rather it is the shortage of affordable housing. The City's Consolidated Plan indicates that one in eight renters in Evanston is paying more than 50% of their income for their housing. That is 1,000 households who have extreme rent burdens.

    Even if the HPRP program were three times its size, it could still only help a small fraction of the households in need. So the problem here is not the dissemination of information but the size of the need. I wish that we could do more.

    As I indicated in the meeting I had with the Mayor and Alderman Jean-Baptiste, Connections has added a staff person specifically to make us more responsive to the people who call. Sadly, adding staff to answer phones is not going to add dollars to the program; and without additional dollars, we are still only going to be able to serve a small fraction of the households which apply for this money.

    I am encouraging the Council, therefore, to join me in seeking out more resources for our City, especially resources that will help us create more affordable housing. That is the answer to this problem. I have also offered to discuss further what initiatives we have underway to identify new resources and would welcome City leadership in the matter.

    Paul Selden, Executive Director, Connections for the Homeless

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