How to help a homeless person in Chicago

You probably have come across people in your life that are going through a hard time and can truly use some help.  If you are like me, you want to help that person, but the biggest reason you hesitate to do anything is because you don’t know the best way to help him/her.  The goal of this post is to simply answer the question: “How do you help a homeless person in Chicago?”  This is by no means an exhaustive solution nor does it incorporate a desire for grand societal change.  It’s just an account of the resources we currently have available to help people in Chicago and how to best utilize them (from my limited understanding).

If you don’t know any homeless people, remember that this cat does and he wants you to help them.

The Backstory

Yesterday, I was leaving Chic-Fil-A with my lunch to head back to the office and a homeless guy asked me for money.  As mentioned before, I like to help homeless people get lunch.  So, I ended up taking my new friend, Everett, into Chic-Fil-A to grab lunch.  We talked for a few minutes and I asked him about his life and how he got to where he is.  I also asked what his plans are for getting out of his current predicament.  He didn’t really have any.  Life had beaten the shit out of him and he was more or less on the ropes waiting for life to keep the beatings coming.  He seemed to have learned helplessness.

I asked Everett if he had access to a phone (he had a cell…apparently that’s not uncommon).  I took down his number and I told him I would do some research about next steps for him then call him with what I found out later.

Steps on How to Help a Homeless Person in Chicago

Now, it took me about 30-45 minutes of calls and redirections and mini interviews to get this info, so please skip to these steps to help out people immediately.  Also, if possible, please stay involved during these initial steps since these are the hardest things for people to do, especially in a place of severe depression.

  1. If the person is about to become homeless due to lack of money for rent for their current place or is on his/her way up and needs help with a security deposit for a new place, call the Chicago Homeless Hotline at (800)654-8595 and dial 4.  They can help setup a case and actually keep the person off the streets.
  2. If the person is already homeless (like my friend Everett), he/she should get a case manager.  The easiest way to do that is to go to a Community Service Center.  The nearest place from downtown Chicago is at 4740 N Sheridan Rd.  They can be reached by phone at (312)744-2580.  Here is a list of all of the other locations in the city and description of what their services are: Community Service Centers.
  3. If the person is unable to make it to the nearest Community Service Center while the center is open, he/she can go to the nearest hospital emergency room and dial 01 to get picked up and taken to the nearest shelter.  I was explained passively that this is another method to begin the process of finding the case manager, but the homeless person would have to take down the info of the police officer or social worker who drives them to the nearest shelter.

And that’s about it.  Helping guide someone to a case manager is apparently the best effort that a random person, such as myself, could do for someone homeless or on the verge of it.  Not everyone will be ready for this kind of help, some case managers might be imperfect, and I’m sure there could be many other problems that come up, but according to the people who help out homeless people in Chicago for a living, this is the best thing we can provide.

The Rest of the Everett Story (thus far)

So what happened to Everett?  I called him to tell him about the Community Service Center nearby.  I offered to Uber him a taxi to take him to the place.  He thanked me for the offer, but said he has a bus pass and that he would like to take care of the travel himself.  I asked him to repeat the address to me 3 times.  He did.  I have no idea if he then  hopped onto a bus and traveled up to the Center.  I’ll be calling him next week to check.

(cue the Michael Jackson music)

I’ll post an update next week on what I hear back from Everett.  Also, if you’re in a city different from Chicago, what’s the process to help homeless people in your city?

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