Chicago Homeless, Housing First, Ending Homelessness
Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness


The formation of the Alliance and the creation of Chicago's Plan to End Homelessness represent a paradigm shift in the provision of homeless services-from managing the problem of homelessness with emergency shelters, soup kitchens and other temporary assistance, to ending homelessness through the provision of permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Radical Restructuring

This radical restructuring is the result of Chicago's Plan to End Homelessness-Getting Housed, Staying Housed: a Collaborative Plan to End Homelessness in Chicago-developed and endorsed by agencies in Chicago that work on the frontlines of homelessness and by people who have themselves been homeless. Mayor Daley endorsed the Plan in January 2003 and has made it a priority of his administration.

The Plan creates a blueprint for:

  • Preventing individuals and families from becoming homeless in the first place
  • Placing individuals and families in permanent housing as quickly as possible when they do become homeless, called "Housing First", and
  • Providing wraparound services when appropriate to promote housing stability and self-sufficiency.

A set of homeless programs that are considered to be in alignment with the Chicago Plan has been developed by collaborative partners. Agencies with programming that is aligned with the Plan have been prioritized for funding from a number of funding sources. The list of approved models is found in the Program Models Chart.

This Implementation Schedule sets out tasks, accountable entities, and completion dates for key activities around the major tenets of the Plan.

In order to implement the Plan, a schedule of goals and priorities was developed and adopted by all partners working on the Plan. This Implementation Schedule [link to doc] sets out tasks, accountable entities and completion dates for key activities around the major tenets of the Plan.

For the first time, all the links in the system of homeless services are connected and in serious dialogue with each other. This collaboration, led by the Alliance, is creating a framework for a coordinated system of homeless services that is based on best practices, accountability, and evaluation.

There are now over 300 plans to end homelessness in the U.S., but Chicago is the first major city in the country with a plan endorsed by its mayor.

The Alliance is uniquely positioned to foster the success of Chicago's ambitious Plan to End Homelessness, which is being watched with great interest by stakeholders in municipalities across the country.

What has the Chicago Plan Accomplished So Far?

Chicago's homeless service delivery system, which largely consists of approximately 90 nonprofit agencies, has been reorganizing itself according to the strategies embodied in Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness. Major accomplishments have been made:

Housing People Who Have Been Homeless

  • Between 2007 and 2009, the total number of people homeless in Chicago decreased by 10%.
  • From 2005 to 2009, the number of people homeless on the streets decreased by 49%.
  • Over the past 8 years, we have added 3,000 new units of permanent supportive housing, for a total of 6,600 units, one of the largest stocks in the country of the proven solution to homelessness—combining affordable housing with wrap-around services.
  • We have added significant resources to the homeless system since the creation of the Plan in 2003, including:
    1. Over $40 million in new HUD funding
    2. $4M in state funding for severely rent-burdened households
    3. Over $10M in state homelessness prevention funding and $33M in homelessness prevention through the Economic Recovery Act.
  • System Reorganization

    Some of the key changes which have occurred over the last five years include:

    • Citywide Coordination. With the creation of the Chicago Plan, consumers, service providers, government partners and private philanthropy work collaboratively to make system improvements, establish best practices and hold each other accountable for progress in implementing the Plan.
    • Unified Approach to Services. In order to be funded, all homeless services must conform to a set of program models consistent with the Plan's goals.
    • System-Wide Data Collection. All homeless programs must participate in system-wide data collection methodologies.

    New Programs and Practices

    With the Plan to End Homelessness, we have created a whole new homeless system, one that shifted from being 38% permanent housing to being 52% permanent housing and one that also has:

    • The homelessness prevention call center that connects people in danger of becoming homeless with specially trained prevention staff.
    • “Apartment finders” who locate housing for households that can pay market rent or just below market rent.
    • The Illinois Rental Housing Support Program, which provides rental support to house over 4,000 "rent burdened" households across the state. It is the nation's largest state rental assistance program.
    • St. Leo's Residence for Veterans. One of the first in the country, St. Leo's provides 141 permanent housing apartments for formerly homeless veterans. Situated on a campus built by Catholic Charities, the project also includes an outpatient clinic and resource center operated by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans.

    Evaluating our Results

    In June of 2009, the Alliance launched a formal evaluation of Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness. Led by nationally-renowned homeless experts at the University of Chicago and Loyola University Chicago, the evaluation is a comprehensive, two-year, community-driven effort to answer the question: is Chicago’s Plan effectively preventing and ending homelessness for individuals and families in Chicago? This evaluation will allow the Alliance to objectively evaluate the Plan’s progress. The Evaluation includes a longitudinal study of 550 homeless households for one year to understand how they fare in Chicago’s homeless system; focus groups of homeless consumers; surveys of providers; and a study of homeless youth. This in-depth evaluation is the first of its kind in the country and will inform not only Chicago’s efforts to end homelessness, but its national partners.

    Still to be Accomplished

    While much progress has been made over the last five years in restructuring Chicago's approach to homeless services, continuous refinement and improvement are needed to ensure that the goal of ending homelessness is met. Some of the key areas that still must be addressed include:

    Reaching all Homeless Populations

    • Going Beyond Chronic Homelessness. The Chicago Plan was envisioned as a blueprint for ending all homelessness. One of the first priorities to be implemented has been in creating multiple programs to address chronic homelessness-those individuals who have been homeless for more than a year or multiple times in the past year. In large part, this is because federal funding has prioritized this population. It is also because research showed that this population utilizes a disproportionate amount of homeless services.

      Yet there are a number of other homeless populations. These include families; youth (those not living with parents, ages 18-25); victims of domestic violence; seniors; people who have been convicted of a crime; people with mental or physical health challenges; immigrants, and veterans.

      Innovative programming, new sources of funding, and, in some cases, additional systems change will be required to remove the barriers that keep these groups from obtaining housing. And it may take more than ten years to be successful with all homeless populations.
    • Discharge Planning. Numerous public systems release people into homelessness, with no housing or resources for self-sufficiency. This includes people coming out of the prison system, "aging out" of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), and people coming from mental health hospitals or medical hospitals. For instance, it is estimated that 20 percent of the people seeking assistance at the Stroger Hospital of Cook County are, in fact, homeless. Upon exit, many of these people have no choice but to seek homeless shelters. Work needs to be done to ensure that these systems locate-and create-permanent housing placements for people being discharged.
    • Chronic Drug or Alcohol Abuse Problems. An impressive array of strategies exists for helping this population, including Safe Havens and Harm Reduction housing; trauma-informed therapies; and specialized engagement strategies. Work needs to continue to bring these innovative models of housing and service delivery to scale.

    Managing Growing Pains.

    Chicago's homeless system must continue to operate without any disruption of services as it simultaneously changes to the new Housing First approach. Frontline homeless service agencies, which are already managing the challenge of helping transform the lives of the people they serve, must have sufficient resources to both meet the demands of today and make the changes required for future service delivery.

    More Affordable Housing.

    Starting approximately 25 years ago, the federal government began withdrawing financial support for the creation of affordable housing. The result of this withdrawal is an affordable housing shortage throughout the country. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that over 3 million units of new affordable housing are needed nationwide. A recent report from DePaul University's Real Estate Center projects that Cook County will face a shortfall of 78,000 units of affordable housing by 2020.

    Numerous other factors have converged to intensify this affordable housing crisis in Chicago. These include the loss or closure of tens of thousands of public housing units, the rapid conversion of affordable units to condominiums in many neighborhoods, and an overall reduction in the number of Section 8 vouchers.

    There are, however, some positive developments. For example, significant new housing has been created for people who are homeless using new strategies, such as:

    • HUD funding being redirected to permanent housing and mixed with city, state and federal sources;
    • State funding being created through a $10 fee on documents recorded with the county recorder of deeds.

    There is also reason to be hopeful that the decades-long retreat from affordable housing at the federal level may be changing. Legislation to create a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would create 1.5 million units of affordable housing over 10 years, has strong bipartisan support and was passed by the House of Representatives on October 10, 2007.

    Nevertheless, increased funding for affordable housing remains critical to meeting the Plan's goals.

    Independent Evaluation.

    Though it can be difficult to measure outcomes when the work is about changing peoples' lives, efforts must be made to assess progress under the Chicago Plan.

    There are some indicators that are showing positive results. The "Point in Time" count is a process mandated by HUD, which requires all homeless systems, every two years, to count people in shelters and on the streets on the same evening across the country. A comparison of Chicago's 2005 Point in Time count to the 2007 Point in Time count, which used the same methodology, shows a 12% decrease in the number of people who are in shelters or on the streets in Chicago.

    Other information suggests areas of concern. For instance, some shelter providers are stating that they have experienced an increased number of "turn-aways"-people who they cannot serve because their beds are full.

    The Plan needs to be formally evaluated to give the full picture of what is working and what needs improvement. Questions include:

    • Are the new models resulting in faster housing placements?
    • Are we able to locate sufficient housing for households with incomes?
    • How well are we matching the creation of new housing units to those who most need them?
    • What does the existence of so many households that are marginally self-sufficient do to the likelihood of success of the Plan?