Homelessness is an issue that I've always been passionate about. It is a national embarrassment that we have so many people living without shelter in the richest nation ever to exist. Before having the honor of serving in the City Council, I became a devoted supporter of Renaissance Social Services, Inc. (RSSI). Last year, I happily accepted a position as an Advisory Board Member for the organization. On Thursday, April 11, I am on the host committee for their fundraiser at the Drake Hotel. I implore you to purchase tickets, which are only $30, so RSSI can continue their remarkable work alleviating our national humiliation.
In 2012 RSSI helped over 660 families find housing. They also provide comprehensive wraparound services and help folks acquire emergency funding so that they do not fall into homelessness.
According to Homelessness in the United States of America, a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, between 2.5 and 3.5 million people will live either on the streets or in an emergency shelter every year. In Illinois, an estimated 14,055 people experience homelessness each night. In Chicago, we have at least 6,000 homeless people on the streets on any given day and a new (and better) definition of homelessness raises this estimate to 21,000 individuals.
Once you dig into the numbers, the picture becomes even uglier. People tend to have an image/stereotype of what homelessness looks like, and as is the often the case with stereotypes, they are dead wrong. The homeless in Illinois have a variety of characteristics. Our homeless population typically consists of 15 percent veterans, 32 percent severally mentally ill, 48 percent with chronic substance abuse issues, 4 percent living with HIV/AIDS and 25 percent victims of domestic violence.
In 2010, over 1.6 million people experienced homelessness in our country. Half of this number was whole families and the majority of those were children under 7 years old. 60 Minutes ran an incredibly moving story about a couple of these families in Florida. Disgustingly, the fastest growing population of homeless individuals is children.
Since President Reagan, government assistance and the social safety net has been steadily demolished. His philosophy (which I abhor) that charities should look out for the most needy in society and not government has been the unfortunate trajectory our country has been traveling on for too long. I am optimistic that we have reached the nadir of the national greed is good philosophy. But, in the meantime, organizations like RSSI need all the assistance they can get.