Can Chicago End Homelessness?

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Yarka Vendrinska / PDIPHOTOS

A homeless man rests in an industrial Chicago neighborhood..

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Daley's supporters say he should be credited with taking a big step in trying to address homelessness. "He owns the plan," said Philip Mangano, the executive director for the U.S. Interagency Council to End Homelessness. "He is the person looking for the benchmarks to be accomplished and he is accountable to his city." A summer 2006 report on the plan noted that more than 130 families were put into the private market and off the public trust during the first half of last year, while nearly 2,000 were helped with various forms of assistance and 35 people were "taken off the street and into permanent housing." (A 2007 update, due out soon, will show that shelter beds now make up less than 40% of the homeless care system, down from 60% in 2003). But groups such as ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a 37-year-old advocacy organization for low income families, complain that such numbers are too small to make much of a dent in a massive problem.

"The plan won't work," said Brenda Faye Smothers, who spent eight months on the street. "People aren't ready for housing. They're too comfortable, as we say, in the shelters." Many aldermen are equally skeptical. "It's a laudable goal, ending homelessness and I wish him the best of luck," says Toni Preckwinkle, who helped lead the May 7 City Council fight. "But not without the right safety nets in place, and it seems this Mayor is not willing to put those there."

The Mayor, and his chief lieutenant on the project, Ellen Sahli, brush off the criticism. They note that Daley has had a record of success in tackling the city's worst problems: he lifted the nation's worst school system from academic poverty, razed the very high-rise ghettos his father erected generations ago, and nearly halved the city's murder rate. "I have always set high goals," Daley said. "This is a problem that can be solved." Many of his critics, however, aren't sure that this is the way to do it.

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