In the hidden crevices of the city and deeply embedded in the shadows of Chicago's remarkable skyline, there is an unforgivable narrative.
Invisible soiled hands reach out to us, loudly rattling plastic cups seeking loose change. Others hold cleverly folded cardboard boxes with desperately scribed appeals for food, money, a job or prayers – anything one could spare. Sometimes a child or a pet dog is at their side. Their voices emerge just as boldly as the piercing sirens, horns and the el, but we mute their voices too. It is more comfortable to tune out those cries, asking for more than change, asking for their humanity.
Who are these invisible human beings in our midst, sitting on the edges of our hurried lives, inundating our daily commute with the inconveniences of their daily asks, their smells, their unkempt appearances and the judgments we heap at their feet when we look away? The displaced, homeless and marginalized hands reaching out to us are our neighbors trying to find their way home again, literally. They are military veterans, youth, family members or former classmates who are returning citizens after serving time to repay societal debts. Still, there is not a monolithic narrative for what homelessness looks like. For some, who are not physically on the streets asking for change, the reality of being a hidden figure remains true.
Troy O'Quinn is a veteran and community leader who now lives and works in Cook County. On April 24, with his wife and two daughters by his side, O'Quinn testified about his difficulties securing housing because of his record. "It takes only a second to break the law, but a lifetime to live with the consequences. One second, one crime, one serious lack of judgment," he said. Concluding that in America, "This can be a life sentence." A life sentence served by his entire family, pushed into the vortex of homelessness too.
Housing should be a human right for O'Quinn, his wife and two young daughters. O'Quinn is not alone. Many are forced to endure homelessness, denied equal access to housing because a landlord has rejected their application due to a criminal history that may be in error, expunged or as minimal as an arrest not leading to a finding of guilt. The stories of hope, regret, and repentance, even, are just as hidden as these formerly incarcerated people, forced into the shadows unless laws are enacted to protect a basic human right for shelter and human dignity.
The Just Housing Initiative seeks practicable solutions that can honor human dignity, protect formerly incarcerated people from housing discrimination and create a pathway for rebuilding lives after serving time. Housing discrimination disproportionately impacts people of color and people with disabilities and as it pertains to formerly incarcerated people, increases recidivism and destabilizes families. The Just Housing Amendment is a viable pathway towards equitable and just housing laws and policies.
Narratives of homelessness are only unforgivable when we choose to look away and invisibilize some of the most vulnerable citizens among us by unjustly denying something as basic as a home. We need you to take action now to make sure that the Rules for the Just Housing Amendment protect the spirit of the Amendment.