Persistent homelessness in the Chicago suburbs shouldn’t be a surprise

Homelessness is an ongoing concern for Chicago suburbs:

Advocates say her story reflects an ongoing dilemma for those working to end homelessness. The problem often is dismissed as an urban one, but thousands of homeless people seek emergency overnight shelter across Chicago’s suburbs each year. In DuPage County, nearly three-quarters of the homeless are from the county, officials said.

Although the number of people served by homeless support agency DuPage Pads has remained steady at about 1,400 people for the past three years, officials counted an additional 29 people who refused shelter this year in favor of sleeping in parks, building entryways and other public areas, said Carol Simler, executive director for the agency.

Many of these homeless people are affected by mental illness, substance abuse or debilitating health conditions. Yet stringent suburban law enforcement — which keeps homeless people from congregating or loitering — coupled with an increase in foreclosed buildings in some areas make the fringe group difficult to reach, advocates say…

In Lake County, 2,000 people receive assistance or shelter from PADS Lake County each year. Officials estimate that an additional 200 choose to sleep outdoors — a group that can be elusive, said Joel Williams, executive director of PADS Lake County.

A few thoughts:

1. Homelessness in the suburbs might be even more pernicious for those without a home because it is harder to access local services or they are less present. As this article notes, there are several organizations in the Chicago suburbs tackling the issue and the PADS organizations in DuPage and Lake County take advantage of the Metra lines or busing, respectively.

2. It shouldn’t be surprising in 2013 to see “urban” issues in suburban areas. For example, the number of people in poverty in the suburbs now exceeds the number in poverty in big cities. Or, see the recent set of articles in the Chicago area about an uptick in heroin usage in the suburbs. Yet, it is still common to see articles like this or reactions from suburbanites that say things like, “isn’t it strange to see urban issues in the suburbs?” It could be that there are still suburbanites who aren’t expecting these issues or who intentionally moved to the suburbs to get away from such concerns. Yet, I also wonder if this isn’t really code for something: this is really more concern in wealthier suburbs who would like to keep these sorts of troubles far from their borders.

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