U of Chicago releases homelessness study as Lower Wacker Drive encampment cleared

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A groundbreaking study from the University of Chicago shows 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago in 2017. As those numbers were released, a homeless encampment along Lower Wacker Drive was being cleared out.

For many of the homeless in Chicago, a stretch of Lower Wacker Drive has become their home. Joy Henderson has been living there for two months.

"My job was downsized, wasn't able to find a job in return," she said.

Friday the so-called Triangle Encampment near Wabash Avenue was cleared out. The city put up fences to prevent crime, and homeless advocates protested nearby.

"I just hope things like this happening to homeless people in the city are not overlooked. We can put pressure on the city to create housing for people who are homeless," said Pastor Ben Adams, South Look Campus Ministry.

There is also pressure from a groundbreaking study released by University of Chicago researchers and homeless service providers.

"For many families, homelessness is not something that happens overnight," said Emily Metz, University of Chicago Urban Labs.

For the first time, the study shows a more comprehensive picture of Chicago's homeless by combining data from city services and Chicago Public Schools.

They found that in the past year 10,000 families experienced homelessness in Chicago, including 17,000 children. Four out of five of the families relied on friends and family to get by, with only 13 percent being able to access homeless services.

"I think this report is really good to have because it shows there's this larger silent group of folks that is struggling, that need assistance as well," said Ruth Coffman, University of Chicago Urban Labs.

"Because of this we want to increase funding for homelessness prevention, cash assistance, grants, rent assistance to keep people in their housing," said Julie Dworkin, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

As they cleaned up what's left of the homeless encampment on Lower Wacker, Joy Henderson said what's next up for her.

"Just keep trying," she said. "Keep trying."

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is sharing its findings with the city and state, hoping to scale up resources dedicated to helping the homeless.
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