January 28, 2014

Students, faculty survey South Side homeless

Thirty-two UChicago students and staff met in the bitter cold to join forces with the City of Chicago in the Point-In-Time Homeless Count last Wednesday. The annual event, which spans the entire city, assures that Chicago can receive proportional federal homeless funding from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development by reporting statistics about homeless people in Chicago neighborhoods.

Volunteers were recruited through the University Community Service Center (UCSC) and the Chicago Studies Program to canvass neighborhoods, mostly on the South Side.

The volunteers began the night with a webinar that taught volunteers the procedure for counting. Afterward, they were split up into groups of three or four, each group with at least one experienced volunteer from Featherfist, a local organization that assisted with the count.

From approximately 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., groups administered surveys, principally to glean information about the kinds of services that homeless people access. In addition, the surveys asked broad demographic questions to assess communities vulnerable to chronic homelessness, such as LGBTQ people and people with disabilities.

First-year Daphne McKee, who also participated in UCSC’s Chicago Bound program, was motivated to participate to “experience the Chicago in a new way,” she said. “It seemed like a very easy way to do something a little outside of usual routine, and you’re learning more about where you live.”

McKee, whose group covered Englewood, said her group visited places such as police stations and St. Bernard’s Hospital to look for homeless people. “You know it’s a problem in Chicago, and it was important to meet the people firsthand.”

Chris Skrable, associate director for community-based research and experiential learning at the UCSC, visited areas surrounding Midway Airport but did not find any homeless people on that particular night.

According to Skrable, the program provided a unique opportunity for students to interact with the city in a new way. “You have all of these non-profits and volunteers coming from neighborhoods and institutions like the University of Chicago. It was an amazing collaboration between the private and public sector.”

He was further inspired by the cooperation between different sectors of the community involved in the Count.

“Often when we talk about social problems we go between, ‘Well, the government should be solving it,’ but the Homeless Count is a neat example of all people working to holistically solve a problem,” he said.