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Cook County leans into a client-centered approach to make strides throughout the Covid crisis

Scott, a resident of Cook County in Illinois, shares his experience securing permanent housing in 2020.
  |  March 1, 2021

Every community in the U.S. felt the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. Suburban Cook County, an area of about 600 square miles outside of Chicago, Illinois, was no exception. The organizations and staff who serve the most vulnerable people of their communities — those experiencing homelessness — felt these effects immensely and had to adapt to continue their work to shelter and house their clients.

Three months after he became homeless, Scott became a client of Connections for the Homeless, an agency in the northern suburbs delivering essential services to people facing homelessness and housing insecurity. After he had been living unsheltered in Cook County for six months, Connections moved him into a shelter when the weather turned cold. 

“Being homeless, you’re not used to this. You’re not used to people doing these things for you.”

Scott, client of connections for the homeless in suburban cook county

When the pandemic began in 2020, Connections helped Scott move to a quarantine and isolation hotel to keep him safe and healthy, but still connected to housing solutions. 

“They brought us three meals a day to the door. If we needed clothes, we could fill out a form and ask and they’d bring it to us,” he explained. “Being homeless, you’re not used to this. You’re not used to people doing these things for you.”

Learning clients’ needs from a quality, by-name list

Using data on their real-time, by-name list, the Cook County team has been able to equip their frontline staff with detailed information about their clients’ specific needs. 

“It helps for us to see who is most vulnerable through our assessments,” said Mario Martinez, Entry Point Manager for South Suburban PADS. “It allows us to be more hands-on with them.” As he explained, “We try and make them feel comfortable with our staff, and we try to give them hope….If there is anything you need and you ask for it and we can get it, we will do that. We will try to make them as comfortable as we can.”

On the path to end veteran homelessness

Having a robust, data-driven system has allowed the county to drive significant reductions in veteran homelessness. They even reached an all-time low of 25 veterans on their by-name list in December 2020, putting them on the path for achieving functional zero for their veteran population by the summer of 2021.

“It’s secure, well-maintained, and clean, and I can’t wait to get more furniture in here. I’m happy — it’s very nice.”

scott, resident of suburban cook county

“Our Built for Zero leadership team is focused on creating a list of all the supportive services and all the housing resources that are available by region, so that case managers have access to all the types of services a client may need based on whatever barriers or challenges a client may be dealing with that is contributing to their homelessness,”  said Kathryn Primas, Continuum of Care Program Coordinator, Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County.

A new home

Scott, in his housing search, not only experienced the effects of these systems changes first-hand, but also noticed the impact on the community. “I’m amazed — so many people have been housed.” 

Despite expecting a process that might take several years, Scott was able to find housing with the help of Connections in less than a year.  In late August 2020, he moved into his new home, a unit in a 9-story permanent residence in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

“It’s secure, well-maintained, and clean, and I can’t wait to get more furniture in here,” he said. “I’m happy — it’s very nice.”