First off, I’m disappointed that I’m writing this statement in response to what I hoped would be a productive meeting with the Salvation Army Mobile Food Truck Unit. But they decided to storm out of a meeting instead of working with me and my office on new approaches to assist those who are chronically homeless who live in parks and under the viaducts.
I also want to clear up the misconception that anyone would go hungry without Salvation Army Mobile Food Unit. Near where the Salvation Army Mobile Food Truck provides meals there are at least 6 soup kitchens in the 46th ward that provide meals seven days a week multiple times a day. This complete list is always available in my office to anyone in need of it.
If the mobile food truck unit decides to move on and provide their services in another part of the city, one of my staff will make sure anyone who has been relying on this truck for meals will have this listing of places where they can receive meals and will know where the closest shelter and soup kitchen are. No one should ever have to be worried about where his or her next meal will be.
I first approached the Salvation Army Mobile Food Unit after a few months of my late-night homeless outreach in the lakefront parks. I was concerned that the Mobile Food truck was providing a disincentive to those in need to receive sustained help. Our homeless outreach consists of members of my staff, representatives from the Dept. of Family & Support Services, Streets & Sanitation, the police, a representative from Alderman Osterman’s office, and me traveling to the park from 2AM to approximately 3:30AM to offer in-person services to those who live there to see what they need to help improve their quality of life and get them into a shelter and eventually into permanent housing. One of my staff spends about 50 percent of his time serving those in need and can point to at least four people we have helped get off the street. One couple is now in permanent housing and is employed and still comes into our office on a weekly basis to say thank you.
While we were seeing success stories and improvements in quality of life for those in need, we still had persistent chronic homelessness that was centralized in the area near where the Salvation Army Mobile Food Truck provided services. I went to the truck one day last year to have a conversation with their staff and hear their thoughts. They told me to reach out to their boss, Captain Nancy Powers.
I called Captain Powers to hear her thoughts on chronic homelessness and see if there was a way we could work together to combat this problem. I asked what their outcomes were and the information she gave me made it necessary for further discussion. That is when I asked for an in-person meeting.
After 4 months of trying to get a meeting arranged, we were finally able to schedule a meeting for this past Friday, but unfortunately without Captain Powers. When I raised concerns about chronic issues under the viaduct, they wouldn’t provide information that their efforts had a noticeable impact. When I pointed to other social services in the ward that have provided numbers and outcomes of their success, the Salvation Army staff were still not able to respond. After years of the mobile food truck taking one approach without being able to document success, I asked if they could explore other options and different approaches to help get people on the streets into shelter. At this point, they stormed out of my office and said they would take their services where they were wanted. I tried to work with them, but they refused.
Obviously now Captain Powers has changed her mind and has decided to work with us again which I honestly hope is the case. I do believe their hearts are in the right place, but I will continue to challenge the status quo and will continue to strive to end homelessness and hope they will work with me to that end.
My number one priority has always been safety and quality of life. Everyone deserves a clean bed and safe place to live. Everyone deserves an opportunity to get back on his or her feet and get to feel the pride of being able to take care of one’s self. Everyone deserves the feeling of comfort in knowing where their next meal is coming from and not to have to worry about going hungry. Those are my priorities.
I also want to acknowledge just a few of the many social services in the 46th ward that are doing good work and providing needed services:
- The Salvation Army Evangeline Booth Lodge, one of the best-run family shelters in the Midwest.
-Northside Housing, which provides both shelter, supportive housing, and day support services to help stabilize people’s lives.
-Lift Chicago, which provides mentoring and support to help people find full employment.
-Heartland Health Outreach, an organization where I have personally walked clients over to get needed medical and mental health care.
-Inspiration Corporation, for the respectful way they engage their clients to assist them with setting goals for themselves.
When I am asked about my expectations from social services, my response is as follows:
-Their services need to be done in a manner that respects the client.
-Their interventions should be done in a manner that empowers clients to change their lives for the better.
-Their interventions should produce performance outcome measures within a reasonable timeframe.
I look forward to working with Captain Nancy Powers and Salvation Army on where we can together combat chronic homelessness and provide better quality of life for those in need.