How To Help the Homeless in Chicago and the Suburbs: The Best Organizations to Support and Where to Donate

“Housing is a human right in a just society.” 

The topic of homelessness is one that American society has compartmentalized and downplayed for decades — especially when considering that in 2020 the city of Chicago alone had 65,611 people experiencing different levels of homelessness — an increase of more than 12% from 2019, almost entirely linked to the devastation of COVID-19, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

These numbers are not mere talking points or examples, but rather the devastatingly grim reality of modern America. We see these statistics repeated in nearly every city in the country. In Chicago, the plight of socio-economic imbalance and by extension homelessness is particularly exacerbated by the city’s long-standing racial segregation — a term many don’t often associate with modern society.

And still, daily, all across the city, countless organizations are actively working to end homelessness. One such organization is the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless — which organizes and advocates to prevent and end homelessness, and has been doing so since 1980. Their three tier approach focuses on community organizing, public policy and law. 

“Our work is focused on … advocating for better policy and better funding to address the root causes of homelessness,” said Doug Schenkelberg, Executive Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “[We] are really grounded in organizing people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness — they’re the ones that understand what being homeless is like and … what people who are experiencing homelessness need.”

Schenkelberg continued that the biggest threat posed to the people facing homelessness is the lack of affordable housing — “A lot of folks are experiencing homelessness who are working but simply don’t make enough money to afford housing,” he said. For instance, the wage needed to “afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rents in Cook County is $25.77 per hour” — drastically above minimum wage, said Schenkelberg, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Moreover, without the foundation of a safe home, it is difficult to build a secure life that is less vulnerable to “potentially chronic health issues, mental health issues, substance use.” 

The solution to homelessness is within grasp, but it requires dedicated funds going to the right places and for society’s general perception on our homeless community members to change. Outside of directly funding these necessary efforts, concerned Chicagoans can also raise these topics to their elected officials or start by expressing the issue to those in their circle, Schenkelberg recommends.

“I think there’s often misconceptions about what homelessness is and how it gets caused,” he continued. “Too often, people think it’s about someone making a series of bad choices, as opposed to recognizing there’s systemic failures that lead to homelessness, including the lack of affordability of housing, the lack of good-paying jobs, the lack of access to decent mental healthcare and healthcare in general. Those are things that can tip someone into homelessness, even though they’ve done everything and are trying everything they can to be stable, to stay housed.”

How To Help:

These organizations are doing important work in Chicago, the suburbs and beyond to help the homeless. Please consider donating or volunteering to support their critical work.

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

As mentioned, CCH is a cornerstone in Chicago’s fight to end homelessness. “Our legal team provides direct service in the form of legal representation to folks experiencing homelessness, in particular, youth experiencing homelessness. We run a mobile legal clinic that goes to youth-serving shelters and drop-in centers to provide legal assistance in a variety of ways, meeting them where they’re at in their needs,” Schenkelberg said. “All of our work is really grounded in organizing people who are experiencing or have experienced homelessness.”

Among their many programs, they also practice a model called “Housing First,” wherein housing is top priority for a client so they can build upon that foundation.

“They don’t have to sober up first. They don’t have to be taking their medications first,” he continued. “Recognizing that it’s a lot easier to treat those issues if people are in stable housing, so you get them into stable housing first and at the same time, you provide them the supports that they need — be it access to healthcare, access to treatment, access to job training, all the things that they might need to maintain stability once they’re in their housing.”

You can support CCH by donating, in-kind donations and, of course, volunteering your time with the this incredible organization. More information is available on the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless website.

The Night Ministry

The Night Ministry Street Medicine Team supports unhoused community members with supplies | Photo courtesy of The Night Ministry

Since 1976, The Night Ministry has provided housing, healthcare and human connection to those who face homelessness or extreme poverty in Chicago. Annually, their services assist over 6,000 young people and adults across the city — from emergency housing to HIV/STD testing; from their Street Medicine program to youth housing and intervention. The Night Ministry is also a 2021 Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award Winner for Social Services — you can find more on that in this CBS Chicago segment. While the organization is always accepting monetary donations or offering volunteer opportunities — this month they are in need of new or “gently used, freshly laundered” blankets and sleeping bags to distribute to those in need through their Street Medicine and CTA Outreach programs. Or, take a look at their Amazon Wishlist for more specific items. Visit The Night Ministry website for more details about their powerful work.

1735 N. Ashland Ave., St. 2000

Alliance to End Homelessness Suburban Cook County

Photo courtesy of Alliance to End Homelessness

In 1997, the Task Force on Homelessness was founded and by 2005 they had updated the name to its current title and officially registered as a nonprofit 501c(3). Now, they continue their mission of ending homelessness in their area “through cross-sector collaboration, data-driven decision making and removing barriers to housing.” In coordination with the Cook County Continuum of Care (IL-511), they are responsible for “the planning and coordination of homeless services and housing options for all of Cook County outside the city of Chicago” — this encompasses approximately 2.5 million people. Their wide-reaching impact is crucial to the livelihoods of those in the North Shore area dependent upon these social services. You can support them by making a monetary donation; make an in-kind donation; volunteer your time; or even become a member. Head over to the Alliance to End Homelessness website for more information.

4415 West Harrison Street, St. 228, Hillside

Connections for the Homeless

Connections For The Homeless is an Evanston-based organization dedicated to ending homelessness “one person at a time” through inclusion, resilience and community — to name a few of their core values. Founded nearly 40 years ago, Connections’ outreach is about more than just securing housing for vulnerable community members — though that work is imperative. Their approach is holistic to the person, from prevention to advocacy and everything in between, including, financial assistance to households facing eviction or emergency shelter for people in crisis. While monetary donations are a crucial component of their longevity, so is physical support. Volunteers of any age or ability are encouraged to sign up for any of Connections’ volunteer opportunities, such as, preparing meals, unloading deliveries and more — they even have remote positions available. Help our neighbors get the thorough assistance and security they need, visit the Connections for the Homeless website for more information.

2121 Dewey Ave., ​Evanston

Broadway Youth Center

Schenkelberg noted that many LGBTQ+ youth face homelessness, in particular. And that CCH’s legal team often sees “youth that have left home without any identification — because they’re essentially kicked out — and are trying to figure out how to be on their own, because of their true identity,” he said.

A true ally to the LGBTQ+ community in Chicago is Howard Brown Health, which is “rooted in LGBTQ+ liberation, provides affirming healthcare and mobilizes for social justice.” From pop-up COVID vaccination sites to sponsoring local programs to fighting for equal access healthcare, the institution has held the city’s best interests since the 1970s. One of their life-changing programs is the Broadway Youth Center — a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth and others experiencing homelessness to receive “youth-centered, integrated healthcare and social services … regardless of ability to pay.” Their drop-in program meets almost every need from a sleeping room to showers, from various medical services to mental wellness support and loads more. This is the epitome of holistic care, especially for youth 12-24 years old with nowhere else to turn for support. For more on their mission or to see what supplies they are accepting in their supply drive, visit the Howard Brown Health website.

1023 W. Irving Park

Facing Forward

The Facing Forward mission statement simply put is: To end homelessness. Though their vision is simple, the social service lifelines they provide to individuals and families experiencing housing insecurity are much more complex. Their approach revolves around offering help for the whole person, from personal to social, by addressing their needs for housing, education, social services and much more. At the beginning 2022, the organization set a year-long goal to raise $80,000 — a sum that could provide a full month of stable housing and support for 80 different families. Recently, they surpassed that number! But continuous donations ensure that even more of our neighbors can be supported for longer by this life-altering mission. Check out their specific programs and initiatives at the Facing Forward website.

642 N. Kedzie Ave.

All Chicago

“The stability of home” — a notion that the folks at All Chicago work to ensure for their clients and those they serve. Housing is a human right and one that even has an incredibly under-tapped solution, as All Chicago says, “We know how to end homelessness, but we need your help to do it.” Through their programs — such as offering emergency financial assistance, community partnerships, conduction data analytics, hosting trainings and research — they are truly putting that statement to the test. The most important key to any type of work in the social need sector is the funding to get it done. All Chicago, like most organizations, relies on the continued donations of those who believe in them and the work they are doing. If you are one of those people, consider donating — the All Chicago website has additional information.

651 W. Washington Blvd., St. 504

Sarah’s Circle

“Ending homelessness for women” is at the core of the Sarah’s Circle initiative. Women are uniquely positioned to be affected by homelessness and, according to SC, often are victims of domestic violence, suffer from poverty — exacerbated by elements like the wage gap — and have experienced trauma. Gender-specific, trauma-informed care makes this organization a safe place for all women, single or with families. You can help their mission go further by volunteering: providing a meal, making toiletry kits or hosting a donation drive. Monetary donations are also more than welcome, as they sustain the good done by SC. Head over to the Sarah’s Circle website for more specifics.

4838 N. Sheridan Road

Good News Partners

Committed to helping those that are “hopeless and homeless” with permanent housing, Good Partners has housed countless families and individuals across Chicago, specifically through their New Life Interim Housing program. Clients and visitors seeking help are able to stay in the shelter for up to 120 days, and during that time the organization helps them navigate their next steps and goals for rebuilding their lives. The organization is always open to in-kind and monetary donations, which fund more than just their housing project. “A gift in the amount of $100 can feed a family of four for a week [or] can buy a coat and pair of boots for a family of two.” A small contribution can do a lot of good for our neighbors — specifics on donation logistics and volunteer opportunities can be found on the Good News Partners website.

1600 W. Jonquil Terrace

A Safe Haven

Often promoted by Make It Better Media and the former winner of a Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award — in thanks to the great work from former A Safe Haven Foundation President Neli Vazquez Rowland — A Safe Haven has proven its worth time and again in Chicago’s fight against homelessness. Their mission is to assist all those they serve to “aspire, transform and sustain” a new chapter in life as they “transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency with pride and purpose.” This extends to their food pantry services, which distributes food to around 200 families each week in the North Lawndale community. Aside from that, their services center on helping people build lives of dignity and success, with access to programs for housing, case management, education, job training and more. Every day, our Chicagoland community members benefit from these long-standing services — help be part of the solution via either monetary or in-kind donations. More information about the organization is available on A Safe Haven website.

2750 W. Roosevelt Rd.

Do you know of a deserving nonprofit in need of support? Submit their requests here and encourage them to apply for a Make It Better Foundation Philanthropy Award.

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Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based writer and editor with a passion for socio-political storytelling about their community. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.

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