Gov. J.B. Pritzker pushes increased funding to fight racial disparities in homelessness

Gov. J.B. Pritzker used the release of a report on Black homelessness in Illinois to press the case for his proposal to increase funding on efforts to address the issue in next year’s budget by $50 million, which would go toward additional rental assistance, legal aid and new programs.

The report, a collaboration between the state’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness and the University of Illinois Chicago’s Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy, found that Black people are about eight times as likely as white people to experience homelessness in Illinois.

The report included an analysis of the historical factors influencing higher rates of homelessness within Black communities compared with white people as well as short- and long-term policy recommendations to reduce inequities.

“Our approach understands that homelessness is not an issue of personal failing but of historical discrimination and structural barriers that have driven inequality for Black families across the nation and, of course, right here in Illinois,” Pritzker said during a Thursday afternoon event at UIC. “Confronting these legacies of inequality will require us to collaborate across issue areas, from public health to commerce to criminal justice.”

Christine Haley, whose position of Illinois homelessness chief was created three years ago by Pritzker, called the report a “launchpad” to continue work toward reducing rates of homelessness, particularly among Black people.

“We are releasing today not only the report and roundtable recommendations but a series of commitments state leaders are making to reduce this disparity,” Haley said. “We are committing today to dismantle the Black-white disparity in homelessness, starting with Gov. Pritzker’s proposed budget.”

The budget Pritzker proposed in February, which remains under negotiation in the General Assembly until a vote scheduled for late May, would increase spending on the state’s Home Illinois Plan to End to Prevent and End Homelessness, an initiative under the Illinois Department of Human Services, to $250 million from $200 million.

Pritzker said in his remarks that $35 million from the increased funding would go toward rental assistance, and $13 million would be for pilot programs to reach at-risk populations and work on racial disparities in homelessness. Those pilot programs would include efforts to connect formerly incarcerated people and foster youths with housing and related resources. Another $2 million would be earmarked for legal aid for those facing court-ordered eviction.

Pausing as he discussed his proposed spending hike, Pritzker jokingly told the crowd, “It’s OK to clap.”

“And it encourages the state legislators to pass the budget,” he said.

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