“Never waste a good crisis,” said former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
In the spirit of that quote, after the coronavirus is brought under control, why not transform the temporary hospital in the Old McCormick Place building into a free housing and rehabilitation center for the city’s displaced and financially disadvantaged homeless?
Now is time to deal with the city’s homeless problem. In January of 2019, Chicago had 5,290 homeless individuals, down from 5,450 the year before, reported the Department of Family and Support Services.
In 2019, some 4,030 homeless resided in some type of shelter, while 1,260 were unsheltered or taking refuge in tents or places not meant for habitation. By contrast in 2018, of the total 5,450 homeless, 4,093 were sheltered and 1,357 were not.
With more than 200,000 unemployment claims already filed in Illinois, and thousands of apartment tenants unable to pay their rent, it is likely that the number of homeless people will grow this year.
So, when the virus crisis is under control, why not utilize this $15-million temporary hospital facility as a safety net for the homeless, instead of dismantling it and waiting for a plan to transform it into a future casino? The facility is ready to accept 2,250 coronavirus patients, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Union tradesmen and women worked around the clock to install 100 new water lines, 1,000 electrical outlets and lines, and more than 100 data lines to supply an electronic records system to accept and monitor patients. FEMA paid for the work, and the Army Corp of Engineers supervised construction.
Look at the positives for reusing the facility as temporary free housing for the homeless:
• Federal dollars already have been spent to install beds and wall partitions. Just add private footlockers for personal belongings.
• Wiring for electrical outlets, lighting, heat and air conditioning is installed and is up and running.
• Nice ceramic-tiled, multi-stall bathrooms already exist.
• A finishing touch could be installing room numbers—so residents can get mail—and adding street signs, such as “Freedom Way,” “Hope Boulevard,” and “Lightfoot Avenue,” along the rows of temporary housing units.
All the city needs to add is a soup kitchen and a menu from the Pacific Garden Mission on South State Street.
While we’re at it, why not create the Mayor Lori Lightfoot “HOPE University”—a job, computer and literacy training center—in the building?
The temporary housing facility also will create jobs for food preparation, security, janitorial services and teaching at the job training center.
If the disadvantaged and homeless choose not to attend classes at HOPE (Homeless Opportunity for People’s Education) University, give them a free CTA pass for transportation to their favorite panhandling location.
A veteran union tradesman who has worked setting up conventions at Old McCormick Place estimates the building is used about 10 to 20 times a year for conventions. The temporary housing facility would be used year-round, and it would save lives keeping homeless people warm and fed in winter.
Once more than 2,000 of the city’s homeless are residing, being cared for and trained under one roof, the effort will create jobs and take the pressure off of the need for building more affordable housing on scattered sites around the city.
Chicago and Illinois already have gained national recognition for its battle against the coronavirus. Why not continue this leadership battle against homelessness?
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.