Elgin to address growing homeless population

The city of Elgin is working on a long-term plan to address the needs of homeless people, whose presence has increased in the downtown area, officials said.

Betsy Benito, director of the Illinois program for the Corporation for Supportive Housing, made a presentation to the city council Wednesday about the early stages of the work, which included interviews in the last month with 85 homeless people and about a dozen community partners such as nonprofits and health providers.

City officials estimate there are about 200 homeless people in town. Some live in a permanent outdoor encampment known as Tent City along the Fox River.

Benito said the next phase will be to identify the first five to 10 homeless people eligible to be placed in affordable housing and make a plan to meet their needs.

"Homelessness ends when people move into homes," she said. "It doesn't end by addressing daily where someone is sleeping tonight."

The Corporation for Supportive Housing offers a loan program for builders of supportive housing, a form of affordable housing that includes supportive services for issues such as addiction and mental health, Benito said.

Such projects mostly are developed through public financing using low-income housing tax credits and result in fewer public costs - such as emergency room visits - related to homelessness, she said. Sometimes local governments contribute funds, she said.

Regarding the increase of homeless people in downtown Elgin, Police Chief Ana Lalley said, "There is a lot of speculation as to why there has been an increase in activity, but no one has been able to pinpoint the exact reasons."

The police department and its social services unit do their best to address the needs of homeless people by connecting them with providers, and it conducted its own set of interviews with homeless people in May and June, Lalley said.

"It's such a complex issue because there isn't a simple fix, or even a systematic method you can employ to solve the problems," she said.

Elgin has lots of community organizations that offer services to the homeless, but "we still have not been able to wrap our arms around the issue," Councilman Corey Dixon said.

Funding to address homelessness in Elgin comes from the Continuum of Care of Kane County, which in turn gets grant money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Benito said. She encouraged the city to seek more representation on the Continuum's board to help advocate for more funding for Elgin.

The services of the Corporation for Supportive Housing cost $21,650 and are split among the city, Advocate Sherman Hospital and Presence St. Joseph Hospital, city spokeswoman Molly Center said.

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