Chicago Women’s Homeless Shelters- Healing Mind, Body, and Spirit

By Jada Watts and Kelsi Morefield

It was so cold this last winter, from Jan 29th to the 31st, that the authorities warned Chicagoans not to be outside for more than 15 minutes. An uncovered face could get frostbite in as little as ten minutes, and tourists photographed the thick ice floating atop Lake Michigan.

Although the polar vortex drew international attention to the city, it drew Chicago’s attention to a more local issue — homelessness.

Despite this surge of attention towards their homeless fellow Chicagoans, many were still surprised to hear how many homeless people there really are in the city.

According to the Chicago Coalition for Homelessness, there are approximately 80,000 homeless people living in Chicago. That is about the population of Evanston. Of these 80,000, about 64,000 people live doubled up with friends or family, and about 24,000 people were serviced by homeless shelters in 2016.

Why are there so many homeless people in Chicago? According to the annual Out of Reach study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Chicago housing wage is $22.69 an hour for a two-bedroom apartment that costs an average of $1,500. With the current minimum wage at $12, minimum wage workers have to work 31 hours a week just to pay for their apartment, leaving 9 hours worth of pay per week to go towards every other necessity. Not including taxes.

Although living conditions are difficult for all people struggling with homelessness, there are added dangers and concerns for women. Of all of the homeless serviced by shelters in 2016, about 40 percent were women.

According to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, nationwide, about 39% of homeless people are women or girls. That means Chicago has about the same amount of homeless women as the average city in the United States.

On any given day, homeless women in Chicago can face any number of challenges.

“[I’ve] met quite few women with chronic physical health issues like immune, fatigue, pain etc and there’s really no awareness or acknowledgement that those people exist…I used to get brutal periods like puking, black outs, couldn’t move. Had to stay in an abusive relationship [because] you can’t be homeless when that happens every 3-4 weeks for 4 days,” said Reddit user sevenverse7.

She continued, “a lot of places have clothing donations but everything is like a size 0-4 which is fine if [you’re] a junkie but if [you’re] not there really isn’t anything if [you’re] average or plus … which is fine no one owes me that… the prob[lem] is that then it’s assumed [you] have access to free clothing though donations and social assistance programs expect that [you’re] getting free clothing but there really isn’t any unless [you’re] a certain size. Women can also be mean, violent, thieves… etc, we aren’t all just victims or [whatever].”

Chicago has several organizations dedicated to the sheltering and protection of homeless women and their children, such as Deborah’s Place, Sarah’s Circle and the Pacific Garden Mission.

LaVonne Bennett, assistant manager of the New Life Bible Program at Pacific Garden Mission provided insight on organizations such as theirs to support and rehabilitate homeless women in Chicago.

Pacific Garden Mission is located at 1458 South Canal Street. Bennett said that the facility can house over 1,000 people, but according to the website, about 300 women and children are housed there nightly.

While visiting the homeless shelter, one experiences first-hand the process of entering the facility. Those seeking residence must first enter through security on the east side of the building. There, they will be checked to ensure that they will be of no harm to any of the other residents. Then, they are escorted into the day room, where they can stay for temporary safety and warmth before the doors are closed.

Across the hall there is a large banquet room with flags, two baby grand pianos, and a stage. Hundreds of metal folding chairs are lined up in rows. This is where the presentations and services take place several times a day. Right down the hall there is a small glass-windowed room where med students from Chicago universities come to provide medical assistance and regular checkups to the residents.

Credit: Jada Watts

Description: Masters students from Rosalind Franklin Medical School volunteer their time to provide podiatric help to the residents.

At the end of this hallway is a main desk, where residents can check in to enter the overnight facilities, separated by gender. Visitors wishing to meet with management are greeted with a smile, and given directions to go up the stairwell to the right and take a sharp left, where they are welcomed by Bennett.

As visitors are not permitted to interact with the residents at the shelter unless they are volunteering, the only information from the shelter is from Bennett.

Bennett, among other things, described the two main programs that they offer. One is a 90-day addiction program with the purpose of weaning the residents off of addictive substances. After this, these residents can choose to enter the Pacific Garden Mission’s one-year program.

Credit: Jada Watts

Description: The children at the shelter painted this wall with their mothers. One will encounter this when walking along the “yellow brick road”, the mission’s name for its bright yellow floors.

As the Pacific garden Mission is a Christian homeless shelter, residents who choose to participate in the one-year program are expected to embrace religion along with their rehabilitation. Not all homeless shelters are religiously affiliated, but Bennett explained that homeless shelters that are religious, like theirs, were funded entirely by donations, because state-run facilities cannot have religious affiliations.

Bennett says that the physical needs of the residents are the first priority when they come to the shelter.

“Well…first we respond to their physical needs. Some come in wet, dirty, you know…hungry. We provide free food, clothing, and shelter. They come in off the street. We’re gonna make sure that they get cleaned up, they can take a shower, they can get some clean clothes, and they can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Bennett said.

Head of the Mother and Children’s Ministry, Samantha Goff, answered the question “have you seen an increase or decrease in the number of women seeking help from the shelter in recent years?”. She also addressed some of the ways that the shelter helps women out in more ways than just physically.

Then the spiritual needs are prioritized. If residents decide that they need more guidance in their life through faith they can enroll in the year long bible program. The focus is on their spiritual condition and Christianity.

Bennett explained exactly how the Pacific Garden Mission goes about providing residents with the tools to heal and grow spiritually.

“They join the year-long Bible program,” she said. “Our focus is on their spiritual condition. They attend a couple of Bible classes a day, and we teach everything from fundamentals of the faith, to what it means to be a Christian, to what is a church, you know, what is justification.

“We also teach topical lessons on things such as fear, anger…these are patterns that we’ve seen in our residents. A lot of them wrestle with fear, and when you hear their story, you’ll understand why. Lot of them wrestle with anger, there’s a lot of unforgiveness, a lot of them have been wounded and terribly damaged, so those are some of the patterns we’ve seen.”

In addition to this, the Pacific Garden Mission helps residents reunite with their families, prepare for career success, and find employment. Some residents even find themselves working for the Pacific Garden Mission after they successfully complete the program.

The thousands of homeless women in this city are helped every day by institutions such as the Pacific Garden Mission year-round.

Now that the polar vortex is in the past, Chicagoans look forward to sunnier, warmer weather. During this time of year, people tend to forget their 80,000 fellow Chicagoans who struggle with homelessness all year round.

“Just because it gets warmer doesn’t mean that the population isn’t still there. That demographic is still out there…you can’t but see that these are people who deserve to be loved, who deserve to be respected, who deserve to be served…these are people. They are not animals, they are not just misfits,” Bennett said.

By Jada Watts

Credit: Jada Watts

Description: A painting hanging in the women’s hallways at the Pacific Garden Mission

There are several ways how people can help institutions such as the Pacific Garden Mission and other organizations that assist homeless. Bennett explained some ways that the community can help.

“Of course, donations can go a long way, because getting donations…we know where the need is most. It’s a blessing when people do give…also, people can help definitely with prayer, and [with] volunteerism. We constantly get a stream of volunteers…they come and they help clean, they help serve, and that gives back to our residents. That speaks to our residents,” Bennett said.

One vital resource for homeless shelters is donated used or new items.

“A lot of people come just with the clothes on their backs,” Bennett said.  “There’s always a need for seasonal clothing…underwear for women, undergarments for women … and then the larger women, we always have a need for clothing for the women who are plus sizes. We tend to run out of those items first.”

Bennett summed up her appreciation for the volunteers: “They’re a gift to the community. They’re a gift to us.”

To help, visit, or check out any of the women’s homeless shelters mentioned earlier.

10 Things To Do During Chicago Winter

Photo taken by: Tony Webster

Chicago is home to many different attractions, especially during the Holiday season. Just because the warmer days are over does not mean your fun has to end too. One good aspect about Chicago attractions is that not all of them cost money to be able to enjoy. If you are looking to keep the fun going during the Chicago winter here are some fun places to check out:


(Map by Jada Watts)

Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place

Christkindlmarket Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory

Lincoln Park Zoo Lights

Maggie Daley Ice Skating Ribbon

Marshall Fields-Macy’s

Mb Community BlackHawks Ice Arena

Millennium Park McCormick Tribune Ice Rink

Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderland Fest

The Second City Comedy Club

Google Analysis: Michael Brown and BlackLivesMatter Movement, Sandy Hook and Gun Control

Is there a correlation between the Michael Brown case and Black Lives Matter Movement?

In 2014, the Michael Brown case took off on social media. According to the analysis of  google trends, the search for Michael Brown skyrocketed twice. Once in August when the case was fresh and then once more in November. An explanation can be made to why the search for Michael Brown soared in November. November is when the case finally went to trial.

In 2016, is when the BlackLivesMatter movement gained some traction on social media. According to the analysis of google trends we see that the movement did have some searches during the Michael Brown case but very few. The movement gained traction two years later in July of 2016.

In conclusion, one would think the BlackLivesMatter movement would have higher search rates during the Michael Brown case. The reason why that is not the case is because the movement did not start until two years later. Even though the movement was searched more often two years later it never reached its peak like the Michael Brown search.

Sandy Hook Shooting Sparks Change in Gun Control Laws

In December of 2012 is when the Sandy Hook school shooting took place. This tragedy claimed the lives of 28 people. According to the analysis of google trends, Sandy Hook reached its search peak in December and gradually declined after the initial peak.

During the rise of the Sandy Hook search the search for gun control also rose. The correlation between the two makes sense because outrage of how easy it is to purchase or obtain a gun. Many people believe this shooting could have been avoided if there were more gun laws in the United States.

The search for gun control did not reach its peak but did spike with Sandy Hook. An assumption could be made that more people were more interested in Sandy Hook than gun control alone. This could be because Sandy Hook was an event and gun control is an after effect. No matter which search term had the most searches they both feed off each other. If one topic is more searched then the other will be searched along with it.

Quinn: MAP Grants Key To Student Success

Pat Quinn photo
Gov. Pat Quinn talks about MAP grants at DePaul University. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

By Bob Smith

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past, but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.”

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

Continue reading “Quinn: MAP Grants Key To Student Success”