The head of the city's Department of Family and Support Services is under fire Tuesday after suggesting that homeless Chicagoans should take cabs to overnight shelters.
The comment was in response to budget cuts by the city, which will significantly reduce DFSS's overnight emergency transport program.
Evelyn Diaz, appointed to her post this spring by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, made the controversial comment during a city budget hearing on Monday in response to a question concerning what homeless people in need of emergency shelter between the hours of midnight and 8 a.m. should do -- simply wait until the morning?
"If they can't find another alternative ... Public transportation, cabs,” Diaz responded, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The response, the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman wrote, recalled Marie Antoinette's infamous "Let them eat cake!" proclamation.
Effective Sept. 1, the DFSS's homeless program, after seeing their state funding halved, laid off 24 employees who staffed the program's overnight shift, picking up the homeless and taking them to shelters. While a department spokeswoman said this summer they would continue to push for restored funding from the city, they explained that only 20 percent of the requests for help they receive come during the overnight hours, meaning cuts there would have "the least impact on the people we serve."
With no transport available, homeless people inquiring about a place to sleep will be asked to call 311. Emergency services supervisors staffing that line can now direct homeless people to shelters, but cannot facilitate their actually getting there, Diaz explained, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Responding to Diaz's cab comment, Julie Dworkin, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless's policy director, said she wasn't offended.
“I’m not offended by it," she said, according to the Sun-Times. "I don’t know that she believes it’s realistic for homeless people to take a cab. She was probably just trying to show how difficult the situation is — that we’re left with choices that really don’t make sense.”
Dworkin added that she was told that homeless people would be transported to shelters by Chicago police officers overnight when the cuts were originally made, though Diaz said during the budget hearing that, "We're not asking police. We're not asking anybody to transport them at this time," WLS reports.
In addition to the overnight transport service being cut, Chicago shelters that receive state support also saw their funding cut in half beginning in July.
On the flip side, the mayor's proposed budget increased city funding to emergency shelters by 16 percent and to transitional housing services by 25 percent, in addition to funding the city's second small shelter dedicated to homeless youth, which uses the Night Ministry's The Crib shelter in Lakeview as a model.
Photo by JOE MARINARO via Flickr.