South Side organization dedicated to the homeless

Many homeless advocates blame the tough economic times for the growing number of middle-class households now considered homeless.

Many homeless advocates blame the tough economic times for the growing number of middle-class households now considered homeless.

Even though the national unemployment rate slightly declined in November families in need of housing assistance is steadily rising, advocates indicate. The city, state and even Cook County all have housing assistance programs in place to help the homeless but more help is needed, said Melanie Anewishki, founder and executive director of Featherfist, a non-profit housing organization in the South Shore community.

Since 1984 Featherfist has helped individuals, predominately Black, with their housing needs. The organization claims to have helped at least 700 people.

Featherfist celebrated it 25th anniversary this month and despite a decline in funding, Anewishki said its goal is to continue helping as many homeless people as possible, especially those at-risk at becoming homeless.

“One of our goals is to reach those at-risk of becoming homeless. Families facing foreclosure, eviction and lost income are usually the ones at-risk the most,” she told the Defender. “But our mission is to give power and purpose to those in the homeless community by assisting them in their advancement toward self-sufficiency, residential stability and self-determination.”

And those who can afford to pay for their housing are asked to do so.

“Our residents pay 30 percent of their income toward their housing. But if they have zero income then they stay for free while they search for employment,” Anewishki explained.

To receive housing assistance from Featherfist a person must be referred from a shelter first.

“If someone comes to us from the street we will arrange for them to be placed in a shelter or set them up with a social service agency if they need specific care, such as domestic abuse or those with mental issues,” Anewishki said.

Veterans are also a target group for Featherfist.

On Monday Featherfist held a ribbon cutting for its newest housing complex, a 32-unit building at 7256 S. Blackstone, for homeless veterans. Featherfist now has 350 housing units with Monday’s addition.

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“We have an outreach program that works with a lot of veterans,” she said.

And depending on what sub group a person falls under will usually determine how long they will need housing assistance, she said.

“Families typically stay three to six months before they get back on their feet. Women with children six months to one year, and single men three to four months,” Anewishki explained. “We help people from across the city from the South Side to the North Side and all ethnic groups although the majority is Black.”

The demand for so much housing can be attributed to the redevelopment of public housing in Chicago, according to Anewishki.

“When the Chicago Housing Authority tore down all those highrise buildings it made a lot of people homeless in the process,” she said. “Not everyone was able to find temporary or replacement housing with their Housing Choice Voucher.”

But housing is just one component Featherfist offers.

It also provides case management, education, training and job readiness so individuals can become and remain self-suffcient.

“Sometimes we have people with problems, such as substance abuse, domestic abuse and other issues. When this occurs we have case managers to assist them get back on track,” added Anewishki.

The organization honored community and elected leaders as part of its 25th anniversary celebration.

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