Can Chicago End Homelessness?

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Yarka Vendrinska / PDIPHOTOS

A homeless man rests in an industrial Chicago neighborhood..

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When Daley first announced the plan back in January of 2003, it seemed laudable enough, if unrealistic: to ensure that by 2012, not a single man, woman or child will be left abandoned on the city streets. No more nightly shelters that have been a staple across the country. Less transitional housing that merely puts a Band-Aid on addictions, psychological disorders or financial disarray. No more overcrowded shelters. No more inundated health clinics.

"We shouldn't act like [homelessness] is a normal part of American life," Daley told TIME. "In the richest nation in the world, there is absolutely no reason why anyone should have to live without a roof over their head."

At almost the midway point of his timetable, however, many observers say Daley's plan is a pretty vision — of a city dressed up with flowers and new parks and without a man or woman or kid in need — but lacks a workable way to fulfill it. "The city hasn't pledged its own wallet, and that pretty much makes it impossible," says Julie Dworkin, policy director at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Although $150 million was invested in the cause last year, and some $400 million has been pledged since the plan became public in 2003, critics point out there is no fixed price tag on Daley's plan. "Let's just say the number would most likely be in the billions, and not the millions," Dworkin said.

The coalition's own 2006 report card on the Daley plan applauds the effort to build more permanent housing, but says the stock of affordable housing is actually flattening or shrinking as rich developers gobble up empty space and redevelop once ramshackle areas of town. The study, released last fall, says Daley "grossly underestimates the demand for homeless services in Chicago," and charges that "thousands of people are likely to end up abandoned and only a limited number of people helped in 2012."

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