Capitol Briefs: State unveils report on racial disparities among homeless populations

Capitol Briefs: State unveils report on racial disparities among homeless populations

By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

Tackling homelessness requires addressing racial injustice, according to a new report commissioned by the state’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The report found that Black people are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than white people. Remedying this disparity, according to the report, would require “long-term strategies that dismantle systemic barriers contributing to racial inequities in homelessness such as ending the mass incarceration of Black people.”

Read the report here.

“When we think about the harms of racial segregation and red lining, we can draw a line to the realities of homelessness,” Christine Haley, the state’s chief homelessness officer, said in a news release.

The report, produced by the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois Chicago, forms the basis of a new “action plan” from the governor, whose “Home Illinois” plan aimed at ending homelessness launched in 2022.

In his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year 2025, Pritzker proposed $250 million for the state’s homelessness prevention initiatives, a $50 million increase over the current fiscal year.

The additional money would be used to provide housing assistance, legal aid and to initiate pilot programs aimed at addressing racial disparities within the homeless population.

The “unified, whole of government approach” is set to embed state officials responsible for helping homeless individuals in at least five state departments, including the Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Family Services.

“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.

Illinois had about 9,000 people experiencing homelessness on a given night in 2022, according to the latest data from the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Rates of homelessness are highest in the Chicago area and around Springfield.

Homelessness in the state has fallen by 41 percent since 2007, according to NAEH data. Most homeless people in Illinois, about 79 percent, were in shelters or other temporary accommodations in 2022.

Air quality report

Illinois’ air quality received mixed grades from the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report released this week.

While some counties in central and southern Illinois had low levels of pollution, areas in Chicagoland are some of the most polluted in the nation. The Chicago metropolitan area, according to the report, has the 17th highest level of ozone pollution of all cities in the nation.

Read the report here.

Ozone is a product of vehicle exhaust and industrial pollution, and the pollutant can aggravate lung disease, increase the frequency of asthma attacks and make breathing difficult, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The Chicago area was also ranked the 22nd most polluted city for year-round particle pollution, which results from construction, industrial waste, car exhaust and other sources.

“In the 25 years that the American Lung Association has been doing our ‘State of the Air’ report, we have seen incredible improvement in our nation’s air quality.” Kristina Hamilton, advocacy director at the ALA, said in a news release. “Unfortunately, more than 131 million people still live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, and Chicago is listed as one of the worst places for ozone and particle pollution, which disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color.”

Downstate communities had generally cleaner air. While data on ozone pollution is only available for 23 Illinois counties, Adams, Effingham and Jo Daviess counties all received an “A” grade from the lung group for having zero days last year with high ozone pollution levels. For the 17 counties with data on particle pollution, seven received an “A” grade, including DuPage and McHenry counties in Chicagoland.

The Springfield area’s air quality worsened this year compared to last year, when Sangamon County was ranked among the cleanest in the nation. It fell to a “C” grade for ozone and “B” grade for particle pollution, based on the number of days with high levels of each pollutant in the air.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV stations statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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