Brian Mullins is a Chicago resident and co-founder of the Black American Voters Project. (Courtesy photo)

By Brian Mullins

Chicago, like so many American cities, faces a worsening homelessness crisis— one that disproportionately affects the city’s Black residents. 

About 75 percent of the homeless population is Black, according to the city’s 2022 Point-in-Time Count and Survey Report, even though Blacks account for less than 30 percent of Chicago’s overall population. This state of affairs reflects a national trend. Across the United States, Black Americans are disproportionately likely to find themselves experiencing homelessness.

Regrettably, many Black political leaders have failed to help their most vulnerable and disadvantaged residents, instead choosing to put the needs of undocumented immigrants first. 

Black voters ought to hold their leaders accountable for their misplaced priorities. 

Chicago currently invests significant resources in housing undocumented immigrants, even as its homeless population faces neglect. Reports indicate that the city has spent $7,000 per person every month to house undocumented migrants in police stations and the Inn of Chicago Hotel downtown. 

The Empire State has similar priorities. New York City’s sheltered homeless population is more than 50 percent Black. Yet in the months since early 2022, the city government somehow scraped up more than two billion dollars to accommodate migrants.

As taxpayers, Black Americans must hold city leaders accountable and question who will continue to foot these staggering bills. In Chicago, the estimated cost of accommodating migrants exceeded $20 million per month, as of April.  Migrants seem to be receiving the inherently limited resources that could otherwise go to the city’s most disadvantaged citizens.

Solutions exist to the homelessness crisis. But they require funding.

Consider the proposed Bring Chicago Home plan, which would provide about $160 million in new funding for homelessness programs in the city. This comprehensive plan aims to offer mental health services, employment opportunities, and other support. This approach recognizes that homelessness and incarceration are interconnected issues in Chicago. Many homeless individuals have a history of involvement with the criminal justice system. 

To effectively address this crisis, we must not only increase the availability of housing, but also provide job training and placement services for formerly incarcerated individuals, and actively combat the stigmas associated with both homelessness and a criminal record.

Unfortunately, then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot hindered Council discussion to move the plan forward during a November meeting last year. 

National leaders also have a role to play in stemming the influx of migrants, who compete with vulnerable city-dwellers for housing and jobs. Encouragingly, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would require employers to verify that their new hires are eligible to work in the United States. 

The bill would require employers to use the federal E-Verify website— which checks applicant-provided documentation such as Social Security numbers against government databases— to verify whether people are eligible to work here. 

This approach would reduce the incentive for undocumented workers to enter the United States. That, in turn, would make more jobs available for American citizens in need and free up resources to address long-standing problems in Black and other underserved communities. For instance, despite making up nearly a third of Chicago’s residents, Blacks account for just 8 percent of its construction workers— a disparity exacerbated by competition from undocumented laborers willing to accept lower wages and worse working conditions.

We need state and municipal officials to stop prioritizing migrants over Americans in need. And we need national officials to proceed along the lines of the immigration bill the House of Representatives recently passed. The legislation discourages an influx of migrants who currently believe that a better job readily awaits them here.

By prioritizing equitable resource allocation, addressing systemic neglect, and empowering marginalized communities, we can forge a brighter future for all Americans. From Chicago to New York to Washington, let’s work at all levels for true equality and justice.

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