Chicago’s First Chief Homelessness Officer Begins Work on Long-Term Plan, Immediate Problems

Homelessness has been steadily on the rise in Chicago and Illinois for the past few years, according to a report from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating an already-existing issue.

Mayor Brandon Johnson is attempting to combat the crisis with the addition of a brand-new role: chief homelessness officer.

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He created the position in an executive order last October, and last month Chicago native Sendy L. Soto became the city’s first person to occupy that role.

The position was made possible through funding by a multi-year grant from Funders Together to End Homelessness.

So far, Soto feels optimistic. 

“I have a lot ahead of me, but given all the experiences and challenges that I’ve already overcome, I have no doubt that we’re going to do a lot of good work together,” Soto said. 

Soto previously served as the managing deputy commissioner for the Chicago Department of Housing where she led the Community Engagement, Racial Equity and Strategic Initiatives Bureau. 

Part of her new role will be to devise a five-year plan to end homelessness. 

“It’s going to take everyone,” Soto said of the mission. 

She says the plan is a three-phase approach that begins with solving the most immediate problems first that are within the city’s budget.

 The longer phases involve being in community with stakeholders and people with lived experiences, which includes receiving feedback from unhoused individuals and those at risk of being unhoused.

Back in March during Illinois’ primary election, a ballot measure known as Bring Chicago Home that promised increased annual funding to get Chicagoans off the street and into stable housing was rejected, much to the display of affordable housing advocates.

Soto comes into this role following that news. 

“That wasn’t the only measure we were going to put forward to address the issues of homelessness,” said Soto. “Nationwide we have a shortage of affordable housing, so we have to look at other opportunities.”

She cites Johnson passing a bond ordinance that will allow for over $600 million to be allocated to affordable housing.

Soto urges people to take advantage of the new office and existing programs that the city offers. 

“This is Chicago’s Office of Homelessness,” she said. “Everybody can come to me, seek out services and information that they’ve been wanting for.”

Read More: Watch the stories of those dealing with homelessness in Chicago in WTTW's FIRSTHAND: Homeless

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