Rockford: Dumping ground for mentally ill and homeless, part two

Light is being shed about concerns regarding the allegedly-increasing number of homeless and seemingly transient men and women seen on city streets. While some areas experience more homeless traffic than others, reports continue to indicate an influx of people left to resort to life on the streets is evident and has been in the making for several years.

Merchants, homeowners and neighborhood watch organizations often find significant needs to increase awareness of crime during tough economic times. With the U.S. economy showing some signs of recovery, the past two years have taken their toll and forced many to live hand-to-mouth and turn to stealing and panhandling to survive. This is evident in Rockford, as even some of the homeless accustomed to periodic day work aren’t being hired.

Reports show Rockford’s unfortunate aren’t alone in their quest to survive. Circles are allegedly growing with outsiders—some arriving through agencies outside the area. Local homeless shelters have seen a significant increase in those seeking immediate needs such as meals and shelter.

The Rockford Rescue Mission, in an earlier report, cited a 20 percent increase in those seeking short-term services this year. Mental health facilities are also treating more patients, many allegedly turned out onto Rockford streets when discharged. Most are released to family, while a sizable number are reportedly left to deal with agencies like the Rockford Housing Authority and Janet Wattles for housing assistance.

“There are some people that don’t have homes,” said Richard Apple, quality manager at Singer Mental Health Facility in Rockford. “It’s a problem. There isn’t enough of housing.”

Singer serves 20 counties throughout Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Patients are referred to the facility from emergency rooms and surrounding placement agencies. Upon discharge, patients usually return to the cities from which they were referred. Some, Apple said, do choose to stay in Rockford with family or seek area housing. When permanent shelter cannot be obtained, many turn to homeless shelters or lives on the street, often resorting to criminal behavior before returning to the facility to be stabilized.

The Chicago Housing Authority works with several homeless placement agencies in relocating many of its distressed families and individuals. Brady Harden, president of Inner Voice, a Chicago homeless service provider, said his agency began transporting distressed families to several areas in the state for the Chicago Housing Authority two years ago. A shortage of Chicago public housing has forced officials to call on housing agencies in other cities to accept the overflow. Inner Voice has relationships with a few state housing authorities, including the Housing Authority of the City of Danville, Ill.

Harden said he was unsure if Inner Voice has ever placed clients in Rockford, but said his network “probably has contacts” here.

“There is a housing shortage in Chicago,” he said. “Many clients want to move. We try to find those who don’t mind being uprooted.”

At press time, representatives from the Chicago or Rockford Housing authorities could not be reached for comment.

Parolees from the Illinois Department of Corrections, most notably those from the area or familiar with Rockford, are also given a chance to start over here. Some, according to sources, are sex offenders and fail to find employment and housing. This commonly results in homelessness, violation of parole and probation and returns to prison for many offenders. Until parolees are re-arrested, sources say they stay in shelters and find places among the street population.

At press time, The Rock River Times was waiting for responses to official requests under the Freedom of Information Act indicating the exact number of parolees, homeless and those suffering from emotional and psychological disorders placed in Rockford in the last year. Requests were sent to several agencies throughout the country.

from the Aug 12-18, 2009 issue

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