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Pathways to and from Homelessness: Women and Children in Chicago Shelters

January 1, 2004

For the past several years, the number of women and children seeking shelter from the City of Chicago's Department of Human Services (CDHS) during the warm weather months has far exceeded the supply of shelter beds. Officials at CDHS wanted to know whether this increase was related to external factors, such as the demolition of public housing units, or to public policies, such as women reaching the 60-month time limit for receipt of TANF (cash assistance). The City of Chicago is determined to end homelessness by 2013 with a "housing first" policy, significantly reducing the number of shelter beds and creating interim housing and increasing permanent housing linked with the necessary social services. By providing more stable housing along with linkages to mainstream resources, the City believes that it can better prevent recurring homelessness. Current information about the causes of family homelessness, as well as the needs of homeless women and children, is critical to the City as it implements its new programs. To better understand the situations of the women and children currently homeless, CDHS, in collaboration with the Ounce of Prevention Fund, commissioned the Center for Impact Research (CIR) to undertake a study focused on this population. CIR conducted structured interviews with 45 homeless women living in shelters in Chicago. The study provides critical information and insight that can inform CDHS policy and practice vis-a-vis homeless families in Chicago within the limitations of the scope of the study.

Drugs, Crime, and Consequences: Arrests and Incarceration in North Lawndale

October 1, 2002

The North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN) and the Center for Impact Research (CIR) have partnered on the Alternatives to Incarceration Project. For the first phase of the project, NLEN and CIR conducted research to document the high rates of involvement of North Lawndale adults in the criminal justice system as there is no single data set that provides this information. The project's second phase will entail research, including working with community advocates as court watchers, to determine the extent to which sentencing alternatives are available to and used by low-income, minority offenders. The research process will provide information for planning an advocacy campaign and will build the capacity of community leadership to promote alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug-related offences. This project is funded by the Woods Fund of Chicago.

Sisters Speak Out: The Lives and Needs of Prostituted Women in Chicago, A Research Study

August 1, 2002

In July 2000, the Center for Impact Research (CIR) began investigating prostitution in the Chicago metropolitan area. The first phase of the project established an estimate of the prevalence of prostitution activities, documenting that a minimum of 16,000 women and girls in the Chicago metropolitan area are engaged regularly in the prostitution industry. Due to violence, substance abuse, homelessness, and health problems, women often are unable to safely exit prostitution. The second phase of the project more closely examined the lives of women in prostitution, in order to better understand their needs for services and support. CIR trained 12 prostitution survivors to conduct in-depth interviews with women throughout the Chicago metropolitan area who were currently, or had recently been, involved in prostitution. In all, 222 women representing various segments of the prostitution industry were interviewed. While this was not a random sample, and is not representative of all women engaged in prostitution, we believe it is large enough to provide helpful information for understanding the lives of women in prostitution, and what can be done to assist them.

What's New? Reaching Working Adults with English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Instruction, A Best Practices Report

July 1, 2002

In July 2001 the Center for Impact Research (CIR) completed a needs assessment, Barriers to English Language Learners in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, which detailed the needs of immigrant working adults for English instruction and determined the barriers they faced in learning English. CIR's 2001 report documented the fact that many of these employed immigrants take advantage of overtime, hold down two jobs, and are often subject to changing or rotating work schedules that make attendance at regularly scheduled classes difficult. Evening English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes that occur twice a week lasting between one-and-a-half to three hours also present difficulties, because they interfere with parenting and family duties; fatigue of the attendees after a long day's work also makes learning problematic. Some Friday evening and Saturday morning classes are available, but seldom are there any classes on Sundays. ESOL providers report that they are unable to schedule weekend classes because of the lack of trained and qualified teachers who are willing to work on Saturdays and Sundays. Volunteer tutors could assist ESOL learners, but they too are reluctant to make commitments for weekend hours. The metropolitan Chicago ESOL system faces an additional problem in that it cannot meet the needs of those immigrants who are interested in, and able to attend ESOL classes. CIR's analysis of demographic data finds an estimated total population of potential English Language Learners 18 years of age or older in the Chicago metropolitan area in 2000 at 277,700. According to the Illinois Community College Board, in Fiscal Year 2001 68,815 adults in the Chicago metropolitan area received some ESOL instruction through programs funded by the Board, meaning that only about one-quarter of the need was able to be met. Sixty-two percent of these learners were in beginning ESOL classes. Many area ESOL providers report long waiting lists for ESOL classes, and some say they are implementing lotteries for classroom places. How then, can ESOL learning be reorganized to enable adult learners who are employed to upgrade their English language skills? Can ESOL services be offered along a continuum, with systems providing various services, geared to immigrants with differing levels of commitment to learning English, as well as changing or rotating schedules and time limitations? How can effective learning opportunities be offered in the home, at the workplace, and in accessible community locations, such as shopping centers and churches?

Barriers to English Language Learners in the Chicago Metropolitan Area

July 1, 2001

Immigrants from all over the world are continuing to move to Illinois in large numbers. As they settle into an increasingly diverse range of communities within metropolitan Chicago, this expansion of ports of entry creates new challenges for the state and local communities in assessing and meeting their needs. In 2000-2001 the Center for Impact Research (CIR) conducted research to address the following questions: -- Where are immigrants in northeastern Illinois moving and how does the migration pattern today differ from previous trends? -- How many immigrants are in need of English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction? Where do these immigrants reside? -- What barriers can be identified that prevent or make it difficult for immigrants to learn English? -- What are the employment patterns of immigrants that might affect their ability to have time or access to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)? Methodology: CIR analyzed demographic data, primarily to establish the communities in northeastern Illinois that needed to be targeted for further investigation. Material consisted of Census data from 1990 and 2000, Current Population Surveys from 1994-1998, as well as information from academics, demographers, and community leaders who were able to provide more accurate and up-to-date information about immigration patterns and trends. To determine experiences with, and barriers to ESOL instruction, CIR conducted 76 interviews with immigrant service organizations and ESOL providers in the Chicago metropolitan area. In addition, CIR conducted 37 interviews with Mexican and Polish immigrants throughout the region and with Chinese immigrants in Chicago to confirm or validate information from social service providers and to further identify barriers and issues around ESOL instruction. Lastly, McHenry County College, at our request, administered a written survey in Spanish to 200 immigrants in ESOL classes at the college. This report presents the findings from this research. As ESOL providers work to meet the needs of their students while maintaining the integrity and professionalism of their instruction, the thoughts and opinions of ESOL students and other immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area enrich the discussion of issues under consideration by policy makers, funders, and ESOL learning centers.

Elements of Success in Welfare to Work Programs: Programmatic and Policy Recommendations

March 1, 2000

An analysis of eight welfare-to-work programs between 1998 and 2000 in Chicago to identify successful program elements, isolate barriers to employment presented by participants, and make recommendations for welfare reform policy. The programs were both large and small, of both long and short duration, and provided a variety of services, from vocational training to shorter job placement-focused activities. By reviewing quantitative findings within the context of qualitative data gathered through staff and participant interviews, we have identified elements of successful programming and welfare policy recommendations that flow from them. Sample Demographics: Our sample consisted of 843 participants in these eight programs over the two-year period. -- The mean number of children across the sample was 2.57. -- 46.7% had earned a high school diploma or GED. -- Average reading levels were 7.70 and 6.46 for math. -- 81.5% of the sample had been employed at some point prior to entering the program. -- The average length of time on welfare was 6.97 years. Employment Rates and Drop Rates: Analyzing all those participants who showed up at the programs after intake, the employment rate was 56.1% and the drop rate was 43.9%. Those who found employment were younger, had a slightly lower average number of children, and slightly more had been ever employed prior to entering the program. Reasons for Program Drop Outs: The four most commonly cited reasons for drop were child care, health, substance abuse, and low literacy. Child care drop outs were on average older, more poorly educated, and less likely to have been employed in the past. Almost half the child care drop outs had school age children in addition to younger children, giving rise to the hypothesis that they had difficulty in finding child care for so many different age groups. Nearly 80% of the health problems involved the health of the participant rather than other family members. Women who dropped out due to health problems had higher literacy and numeracy levels than the overall sample, as well as a much longer average time on welfare (11.95 years versus 6.97 years). Fewer participants with health problems had ever been employed (75.6%) compared to the overall sample (81.7%), indicating that these health problems have and continue to be employment barriers. Substance abusers dropped out later in the program than other drop outs. They too have been on welfare for a longer time than the overall sample- 8.67 years versus 6.97 years. Since their average employment history was about the same as the overall sample, it is likely that substance abuse causes participants to lose successive jobs, a factor that is associated with longer stays on welfare. Participants who dropped out due to low literacy had average reading scores of 4.54 and math scores of 3.96, considerably lower than the overall sample, and had longer years on welfare (8.34 compared to 6.46 for the entire sample). In addition, they had been employed far less than the sample (55% compared to 81.7%), indicating that their low literacy presented a significant barrier to employment.

A Second Chance: Improving Chicago's GED Performance

March 1, 1998

An analysis of Chicago's low GED pass rate and suggestions for improvement.