Three times as many people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago this year as migrant numbers surged

A city survey found that nearly 19,000 people were without permanent housing in January, compared with about 6,000 the year before.

A closed tent sits on the sidewalk
A homeless person’s tent on a sidewalk in downtown Chicago on April 22.Scott Olson / Getty Images file
Nearly 19,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Chicago in January, more than three times as many as last year, as the city struggled to manage the thousands of newly arrived migrants in its shelter system.

An annual city survey released Friday — a snapshot of estimated homelessness in Chicago on a single night — found that 18,836 people were without permanent housing on Jan. 25, up from 6,139 the year before.

The survey numbers are based on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of homelessness, which includes unhoused people and those living in shelters.

Join YouTube banner

A majority of the increase was driven by thousands of new migrants’ arriving in Chicago and needing shelter. The migrants have been facing delays in getting work permits, if they qualify for the permits at all, a critical step in obtaining housing.

While the city has “steadily continued to work to prevent and end homelessness,” this year’s count “reflects an increased need for housing and homeless services,” not only in Chicago, but also across America, said Maura McCauley, managing deputy commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

There were 13,679 new arrivals living in Chicago’s shelters the night the survey was conducted, an increase from the 2,176 living in shelters in January 2023, according to the survey. There were also 212 migrants living completely unsheltered this year, compared with 20 last year, the survey said.

The large increase showed that the migrants and the city were “dealing with a lot of hardship” earlier this year and that the city, Cook County and the state have tried to add resources to address “this unprecedented influx,” said Doug Schenkelberg, the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Some 43,058 migrants have come to Chicago since 2022, when Texas Gov. Greg Abbott began sending people to Democratic cities across the country.

“Back in January, we were sheltering close to 14,000 asylum-seekers from the southwest border. What it reflects is over the last year we have been building this capacity to add five times the number of shelter beds to our system and in a short window of time,” McCauley said. “Fortunately, you see the majority of those asylum-seekers were in shelter, and if we hadn’t really met that moment, we would have seen a large, unprecedented increase in our unsheltered population.”

The increases also went beyond the migrant population. Overall, the number of homeless people outside the migrant population rose to 4,945 from 3,943 the previous year, according to the survey — 3,523 people in shelters and 1,422 unsheltered people, compared with 2,973 in shelters and 970 unsheltered people last year.

“That number, that’s really concerning,” Schenkelberg said, speaking of the roughly 25% increase.

The city said the number of nonmigrants living in the shelter system rose 18% from last year. It said the increase was driven by expanded winter bed access, new programs, increases in bed capacity in shelters and the arrivals of more people, especially families, in the homeless system as more coronavirus pandemic support policies expired last year.

Join YouTube banner

There was also a 65% increase in the number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The city said the increase was driven by improvements in counting methodology in encampments and on public transit.

Of the population experiencing homelessness who were not migrants, 72% were Black, while Black people make up 30% of Chicago’s population, according to the city data.

Since January, the number of migrants living in Chicago’s shelters has fallen significantly, to 6,937 as of Friday, after the city began enforcing policies that limit shelter stays.

“But it doesn’t necessarily mean that their problems are taken care of. The vast majority still don’t have access to work permits, which is a federal issue,” Schenkelberg said.

Schenkelberg said the point-in-time count as a measure of homelessness “is limited to begin with, because you’re surveying just people who you find in the shelter system or on the streets and one night in January.”

“So it’s always going to be an undercount of the real size of homelessness,” he said.

The survey also does not include people temporarily staying with others, which organizations like the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless have said account for a majority of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

While the number of migrants in shelters may be down, “homelessness has been a crisis for decades and the influx of asylum-seekers raises the profile of the issue, but it’s not a new issue,” Schenkelberg said.

NBC News






Comments are closed.