Evany Turk found herself HIV positive, suffering from depression and homeless in 2004. Now, Turk is not only working and independent, she helps others with HIV navigate the homeless support system as she did five years ago.
What works in Chicago's homeless system? What doesn’t? And how can Chicago see more success stories like Turk’s? An evaluation of Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness is under way to answer these questions and more.
Based at Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Urban Research and Learning and conducted in conjunction with the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration, the evaluation will take more than a year to complete. A final report is expected in 2011.
“We’re looking forward to the results so that we can use any and all information to improve our services and make changes to the plan to meet our goals,” says Betsy Benito, Project Administrator for the Plan to End Homelessness for the City of Chicago. “We want to make sure we’re serving people better. The services delivered should be tangible to what they’re facing at that time.”
Over the year, 600 individuals will be tracked within the city's homeless system. The evaluators will conduct initial interviews with the 600 in September, again six months later and a final time at the end of 12 months. Half of the group will be homeless with families, the other half homeless individuals. One-third will be in emergency housing, one-third in interim housing and one-third in permanent residences.
“We will be able to see how they’ve experienced the system. We’ll also be able to see what their needs are. And what has happened to them in that year,” says Christine George, co-principal investigator of the evaluation and research faculty for the Loyola University Chicago Center for Urban Research and Learning. “We’ll learn from their eyes how the system works.”
In planning the evaluation, George and the other researchers, who are partnered with the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness, polled homeless advocates, those funding the evaluation and homeless consumers already in the system – to find out what questions to ask.
Stakeholders across the board wanted to know – what it is the experience like for the consumer?
“We found that the questions [all of the stakeholders] wanted us to ask were amazingly uniform, that this perspective on the evaluation needs to be for the consumer. ‘What happens to someone when they enter Chicago’s homeless system?’” says Nancy Radner, CEO of the Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness.
Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness, initiated in January of 2003 as a 10-year plan, was developed by citywide organizations working with the homeless. Designed to end homelessness with the focus on moving individuals and families into permanent housing, whether the plan remains on a 10-year timeline is unclear. The results of the evaluation will provide information on how and where the plan is working.
The plan is based on a Housing First model, which makes permanent housing a priority in conjunction with other support services. This differs from previous, emergency-based approaches. The evaluation should give a clearer indication as to how the Housing First model, as well as the homeless system overall, works.
“Housing is the first thing you need, but there is a lot that comes along with having your own apartment," says Evany Turk. "I think that’s why I was so successful - because (of) the supportive services that came with the housing. The wraparound services are essential to that program.”
Turk benefited from therapy, counseling to overcome her depression and eventually help finding a job.
“I’m happy to see they’re evaluating. They’re interested in learning more and changing what’s wrong," Turk says. "I hope that they realize that they need more affordable housing for the general population, more funding for new housing.”