Tribune article highlights needs for widespread squatting

Cindy Almendarez avoided the homeless shelter for as long as possible, shuffling her children from a friend's basement to a roach-infested apartment before bunking down in the back seat of her car, where, for nearly two weeks, they tried to pretend they were camping.

She tried to cheer up Zachary, 10, and Zarah, 4, by joking that the family was "temporarily unassigned a permanent location" before finally winding up at a PADS Crisis Services homeless shelter this fall.

Almendarez, 41, is one of the early victims of the foreclosure crisis, losing her Waukegan home in February 2007 after the death of her husband. Spiraling into depression, she lost her job, her financial footing and personal dignity as she tried to keep the children's daily routines intact while recovering from her losses.

Across the Chicago area, social service providers say more families are turning to shelters. Just as alarming, they say, is the ballooning number of people who aren't homeless—yet—but who, lacking intervention, could join the ranks in 2009.

Some have been evicted from apartments after their landlord was foreclosed upon, and cannot afford the security deposit required to rent a new one. Others had their hours cut back at work and are struggling to meet their monthly bills.

"They were already just hanging on," said Marilyn Farmer, the executive director of the Morning Star Mission in Joliet.

Since October, Chicago-area homeless shelters have reported increases of anywhere from 5 percent to 39 percent in people needing immediate housing, compared with the same time the previous year. The number of homeless students enrolled by Chicago Public Schools in November was 9,132—up 28 percent compared with November 2007, a spokeswoman said.

What's harder to quantify are the numbers of people on the brink.

Experts say that's because becoming homeless usually happens over time, not abruptly, and may never involve a formal shelter or governmental agency.

"People will use up every available resource, staying in a motel, staying with friends and family," even in their car, before going to a shelter, said Lynda Schueler, executive director of West Suburban PADS, based in Oak Park.

But social service providers are noticing an uptick in people asking for the kinds of help that often presages homelessness—primarily help in paying their rent or mortgage and to catch up with utility bills.

"Lots of people are living doubled up," said Darlene Marcusson, executive director of the Lazarus House in Wheaton, which has seen a 20 percent increase in people seeking help to pay rent.
full story at the Trib

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