Posted on August 10, 2015, 10:16 a.m. in the Aurora Beacon News
Without the proper support services and housing, many homeless people find themselves caught in a cycle of shelters, jails and hospitals.
“If you take a person dealing with a disability and you put them in a house with service providers, then they’re not in the chaos of ‘Where am I going to eat lunch today’ or ‘Where am I going to go later,'” said Neil McMenamin, associate director at Hesed House, a facility in Aurora that works to help the homeless. “So, they hardly have any ER visits, hospitalizations or jail visits, because they have a home base now, and they’re not engaging a bunch of service systems.”
There are 113 permanent supportive housing units in Aurora that offer housing and support services to the most vulnerable populations of Aurora, including the chronically homeless. Based on the results of recent surveys, city officials have identified housing with supportive services as a priority over the next five years.
The Aurora Fire Department, Police Department and Neighborhood Redevelopment Division recently began working with Rush-Copley Medical Center and Presence Mercy Medical Center to conduct a study with the Corporation for Supportive Housing.
The study will target Aurora residents who are experiencing homelessness and regularly use crisis services, shelters, and emergency health services. It will also help create a plan to stabilize this population with a new model of permanent supportive housing.
Aurora officials hope that their study will lead to a better permanent supportive housing model in Aurora.
“The main thing is we’re trying to get a better handle on both the need, as well as some of the best practices which are out there,” said Rick Guzman, Aurora assistant chief of staff. “The report we’re getting out of it, getting all the stakeholders together and compiling all the data, will allow us to more fully assess the need.”
While the city works to create more permanent supportive housing units and services to meet the need, many people are stuck on waiting lists.
The Association for Individual Development (AID) provides supportive housing services to more than 200 people with disabilities. Still, more than 500 people in Aurora are on their waiting list for housing services.
Hesed House also offers 17 scattered permanent supportive housing units in Aurora funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The waiting list for their housing and services includes more than 75 names.
“The need has been increasing each year for a couple of reasons,” said Lynn O’Shea, president and CEO of the Association for Individual Development. “More seniors are aging and each year more students are graduating from special education programs and parents are hoping to find affordable, supportive housing.”
According to 2012-13 Illinois State Board of Education data, more than 5,000 students with special needs will exit public education in Aurora over the next decade. City officials believe that the majority of these students will need varying degrees of specialized services and housing.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can help stabilize these more vulnerable populations in Aurora,” Guzman said. “Multiple populations are served through this model, including those with disabilities, mental health issues, and those experiencing homelessness.”
With a low supply of permanent supportive housing, the city is making plans to add some units in the upcoming years.
The city of Aurora’s 2015-2019 Consolidated Plan sets aside about $25,000 to redevelop or create 65 rental units for the elderly, special needs and homeless community members.
The Aurora Housing Authority also began a partnership with the city in 2014 to help fund a 40-unit scattered-site affordable housing project. The 40 units will be single-family homes which are being renovated after they were abandoned or foreclosed on, evenly distributed on the east and west side of the city.
The private developer involved in the project, Brinshore Development, LLC, has an agreement with AID to provide supportive services to at least four of the 40 units.
“There is a possibility, just depending on how the families come off the waiting list, that there might be more families that will require and will be granted that assistance,” said Keith Gregory, executive director of the Aurora Housing Authority.
There are more than 150 individuals and families on the waiting list for this project. Those with supportive housing needs are on the same waiting list as those who do not need supportive services.
The 40 scattered-site homes are at various stages of renovation, and some may take up to a year to complete.
“There will be some additional affordable and supportive housing in Aurora over the next 12 months or so, but we’re hoping that it becomes a greater priority,” O’Shea said. “We have a long way to go.”