Blog: Supportive Services

Welcome to LCBH’s Blog. Our blog delivers original articles written by our staff, interns and volunteers. We strive to provide informative stories about the work we do on behalf of Chicago renters and the issues renters face.

Umair Naseer, LCBH Case Manager

We are excited to announce that Umair Naseer recently received his social work license. A former supportive services intern, Naseer began his professional career at LCBH as a Case Manager. He is committed to using his values and skills to help clients navigate housing insecurity successfully.

What influenced your decision to be a social worker?
Prior to studying sociology in undergrad, I worked as a teaching assistant. I've always wanted to work in a setting where I could help people. That helped guide my decision. I found that exploring social work provided more jobs that suited my goal. I graduated with a Masters in Social Work in May 2021 and decided that the next formal step was to obtain licensure.

How did you become affiliated with LCBH?
I interned with LCBH during my studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago. After finishing my last semester, I permanently joined the organization. I was excited to take on a full-time position as a Court-based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) Case Manager.

Anita Lewis, LCBH's New Director of Social Services

Anita Lewis has been named Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing's Director of Social Services. Lewis joins LCBH from Metropolitan Tenants Organization, an organization dedicated to educating and empowering tenants to exercise their rights to affordable and adequate housing. She has extensive experience in the field. We are happy to have Anita on board. Learn more about her story below.

What have you done prior to joining LCBH?
I have spent the last twenty plus years of my career in housing with a concentration in mental health and related instabilities. A large part of my experience has been mental health advocacy as it relates to the housing market. I previously worked at Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO) as the Associate Director. I then transitioned to Envision Unlimited, where I worked in the mental health division. I am still involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as an active volunteer, and I am also associated with Horizons for Youth and other local food pantries and distribution centers.

How did you get involved with LCBH?
MTO and LCBH had a strategic partnership. We collaborated on a lot of development work. We also did intakes and directed many of our clients to LCBH so that they could take advantage of legal services, as that was something that we did not provide. We were able to connect them with LCBH through a hotline.

Laurel Chen

Laurel Chen was an intern in LCBH's supportive services department during the 2018-2019 academic year. LCBH is grateful to have Laurel's voice and advocacy. If you are a former pro bono attorney, supportive services intern, or legal fellow, we encourage you to Share Your Story.

How did you get involved with LCBH?
I was an intern at LCBH during my 2nd year at the University of Chicago School of Service Administration (SSA). Before applying to SSA, I worked for the Vermont Coalition to End Homelessness, where I focused on a range of homelessness prevention strategies.

Why did you want to intern at LCBH?
I was interested in learning more about on the ground housing issues. I found LCBH in SSA's field placement catalog and I liked its holistic approach to housing issues by combining social work and legal-aid. So, I reached out to Jude Gonzales, LCBH's Supportive Services Director, about a position.

What was it like to be an intern at LCBH? What work did you do?
I worked with clients who were receiving legal services. I assisted them in finding a new housing situation. I would check in with clients by phone or person. A lot of this involved reaching out to landlords, going through affordable housing listings and supporting clients to find a good match for them. I did this in partnership with the attorneys on the case.

When Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing launched it’s Chicago Evictions data portal last May, a key finding was the number of Chicago tenants being evicted over relatively small amounts of money.

82% of Chicago eviction cases filed in 2010-17 made claims for back rent. In 18%, the rent owed was less than $1,000, and 44% were under $2,500.

In October, LCBH expanded a successful pilot project that provides eligible Chicago renters supportive services, free legal aid, and access to State Homelessness Prevention Funds (the Funds) up to $5,000 for back rent and/or security deposits.

Prior to the pilot, renters summoned to appear in eviction court were not screened for eligibility. Jude Gonzales, Supportive Services Director, and his group of Masters of Social Work interns are leading the effort to change that through our Court-Based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA) program.

In addition to financial assistance, the CERA team works to address underlying issues that led to the eviction filing by providing referrals to job training, financial literacy, and other beneficial programs. If needed, they can help households find replacement housing.

NOTE: The Eviction Diversion Program is now call Court-based Emergency Rental Assistance (CERA).

Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing thanks the seven judges who attended the Eviction Diversion Program open house Friday, November 2.

Judges and clerks involved in eviction court are able play an important role in creating alternatives to eviction, and we at LCBH appreciate the time and expertise of all who were able to attend.

The Eviction Diversion Program (EDP) is a pilot to help low- to moderate-income Chicagoans avoid potential eviction judgments by facilitating mutually beneficial agreements between tenants and landlords.

First, the pilot program will connect qualified clients to homelessness prevention funds. These funds can be used for rent arrearages to prevent eviction, for security deposits, and to cover first month’s rent for new apartments.

Case management is also part of the pilot program. Tenants will receive short-term, intensive case management services aimed at stabilizing the renters’ housing situation, addressing the underlying issues that led to the eviction, and educating the client on resources to utilize in the future prior to a housing crisis.

A third component of the program is resolution services. Case managers will work with tenants to advocate with their landlords for a mutually beneficial alternative to an eviction order.

Privacy Considered

The Supportive Services team at LCBH helps provide holistic solutions that go beyond the short term legal crisis. Our social workers help our most vulnerable clients by performing assessments, locating alternative affordable housing, applying for emergency funding, screening for public benefits, and providing guidance to other essential services. The collaborative environment we have built between our lawyers and our social workers has become a crucial part in our efforts to best serve our clients. One of our ongoing struggles in fostering this team approach has been about how to best resolve the conflict between privacy and mandated reporting.

Social workers are “mandated reporters” and are required to report any suspicions of abuse/neglect with regards to children, seniors or people with disabilities as well as any suspicions of self-harm. Lawyers, on the other hand, are not required to report this information but are instead bound by attorney-client privilege to protect the client’s confidences.

Last year, we started hosting DePaul University students seeking their MSW (Masters of Social Work) in our Supportive Services department as interns. A core feature of the program at DePaul is a requirement that students, in addition to the regular clinical internship duties, also work on a “macro” project. The project we decided to tackle was to create a formalized privacy policy for LCBH.

Rachel’s Paycheck-to-Paycheck Reality

We may not realize it, but many people are “one paycheck away from being homeless.” Unfortunately this is the reality for many of those we see at LCBH. They can pay for rent, utility bills, childcare costs, food, medicines, etc. only as long as their next paycheck lasts. For many individuals, a single paycheck can mean the difference between being housed and being homeless. At LCBH, the attorneys and social workers understand that being “at risk of homelessness” is rarely ever an isolated issue and is often related to greater issues of economics, mental health, familial stability, etc. Faced with situations in any of these areas, an individual can go from paying their bills on time to facing homelessness without the help of an external source.

Rachel Jones was on maternity leave when she arrived at LCBH with a 5-day notice for eviction due to non-payment of rent. Rachel is a mother to a happy-go-lucky nine-year-old son named Devon and recently gave birth to her daughter Grace. Together the family lives in a two-bedroom apartment that she has been renting for the last several years. Rachel’s top priority is taking care of her two children and her full-time job.

LCBH Intake Supervisor, Sue Scholten

Our Intake Supervisor, Sue Scholten, has been with LCBH for five years. In this article, Sue shares some perspectives on the integration of supportive services when helping renters with legal problems.

According to Sue, it all starts with the intake interview, which is not really an interview, but rather a conversation that involves listening to the multiple messages the person presents and the environment from which those messages emerge.

In the beginning, when listening to an individual’s story for the first time, we look for factual information that are legal defenses to an eviction and can inform the attorneys when deciding whether LCBH will be able to take the case or not. During this process, there are multiple messages about the “person in environment” that emerge and may be of concern to LCBH’s supportive services team. Underneath the basic facts of their potential legal case, there is the psychological and narrative messages that have evolved from long- term economic disadvantage, non-responsive institutional systems, and family and friend support systems with limited resources to assist this person.

Just as an individual’s personal experiences may create inspiring resiliency, for others there is psychological and social exhaustion that evolves from systems that create disadvantage and exclusion. It is in this undefined area of response to events that an individual may need additional assistance in the form of supportive services.

from left: Carla Feger, Lee Reisman, Luke Smith and Victoria Newcomb

LCBH welcomes four interns to the Supportive Services team for the Spring semester of 2015. These interns gain valuable professional experience while helping LCBH clients facing housing instability or possible homelessness.

Carla Feger – Carla is a first-year student at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. During college, she studied psychology and took some education courses to learn more about equity concerns in education. As Carla continued her learning process, she served with City Year in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and mentored seventh-grade students who taught her a lot about the world. This experience affirmed her passion to work with students to help provide them with a rewarding experience and to achieve to the fullest potential. Carla decided to pursue a Masters in School Social Work and chose to intern with LCBH’s Supportive Services department to learn more about the housing issues that families face and how those issues significantly affect students’ lives, including their success in school.

2014 Summer Supportive Services Interns

This summer LCBH has four undergraduate interns working in our Supportive Services Department. This is a BIG help as our graduate interns are only here during the regular school year from September until June. Without these students who come to spend their summer with us, LCBH would have a tough time offering the level of service our clients need. Here are a few highlights from each of the students:

Helena Bassett is interning at LCBH through the Summer Links program at the University of Chicago, where she is entering her third year. She is studying history and critical theory, and spends most of her time organizing with the student arm of the Trauma Center Coalition. Working with Supportive Services, Helena is crafting a survey to help get a clearer picture of tenants’ actual needs beyond legal help when they are accepted as an LCBH client. Right now, that means she gets to connect with some of the amazing tenants that have already gone through Supportive Services so that the tenants’ own perspectives help shape the survey and the direction of the program. “I believe that one of the most fundamental ways that asymmetrical power structures are expressed is through the often unjust relationship between tenant and landlord. Working at LCBH shows me one of the avenues possible for challenging that structure.”