Monday, April 6, 2009

Chicago Townships Struggling to Meet Need for Social Services

From Chicago Community Trust...
Metropolitan Chicago Townships Struggling to Meet Rising Need for Social Services

April 6, 2009, Chicago – Fallout from the global economic crisis has resulted in new levels of unemployment, homelessness, and hunger across metropolitan Chicago, including unprecedented spikes in the suburbs. Townships and municipal governments that have long struggled to provide adequate social services to their communities now face an even greater divide between capacity and need, according to a new report released today by The University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Uneven Capacity and Delivery of Human Services in the Chicago Suburbs: The Role of Townships and Municipalities” examines the financial,political, and administrative capacity of townships and municipalities to provide human services and begins to answer two primary questions:
What is the current role of suburban townships and municipalities in delivering social services?
What is their capacity to enhance their role in the future?

The report was written by Rebecca Hendrick, Ph.D., and Karen Mossberger, Ph.D., both faculty members at The University of Illinois at Chicago, and was funded by The Chicago Community Trust.

“Even before the economic crisis, poverty levels were rising in many Chicago-area suburbs. We need to be asking whether the hundreds of municipalities and townships across the region are positioned to effectively address needs”, said Jim Lewis, Ph.D., senior program officer for basic human needs at The Chicago Community Trust.

The need to examine suburban social service delivery capacity in particular is critical because of changes in the distribution of poverty, with long-term growth in the demand for human services in many Chicago suburbs.
Demand at area food banks and suburban homeless shelters climbed in 2008, and unemployment and foreclosures have accelerated.
The number of poor and working poor who live in the suburbs of the Chicago metropolitan area has been increasing since 1990, and those who are already poor are especially vulnerable during an economic downturn.
Governments are also significant human service providers, including suburban townships and municipalities. Yet, little is known about the extent to which townships and municipalities are able to meet growing needs.

“We relied on several sources of information to answer these questions. We surveyed all townships in the Chicago metropolitan region and municipalities in DuPage and Cook Counties in spring 2008 to ask about social services they provide. We also examined financial data available from the State of Illinois and statutes affecting their financial capacity. But we realized early on that social service delivery in the region is haphazard and capacity is limited,” said Rebecca Hendrick.

Collectively, townships provide a wide range of social services in conjunction with their mandate to provide general assistance, but there is substantial variation in provision, and there is evidence that in some communities the demand outstrips the available services.

Twenty to thirty percent of townships believe that they can meet only a portion of demand for social services or have few resources to meet the needs in their communities.
Approximately 16 percent indicate that they have taken steps recently to reduce or eliminate services.
Most survey responses were collected before the economy worsened in fall 2008, so the survey results may understate current conditions.

The report recommends the following:
· Townships as coordinators. Townships, in particular, have the potential to act as a hub for service delivery within their boundaries, and some have formalized this role through local coalitions.
· Assistance for low-income townships. More flexible and strategic financial assistance should be available from the state and other sources for high‐need and low‐resource townships.
· Sub-regional coordination. Greater collaboration between social service providers within counties could facilitate joint projects and build organizational capacity among providers.
· Regional planning and coordination. Greater cross‐sectoral and intergovernmental collaboration on the regional level are needed to target areas of need, promote more equal access to services, and share information for innovation and capacity‐building. Regional dialogue should include multiple levels of government, professional associations, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and regional organizations, among others.

The report is available to download from the following websites: and

About The Chicago Community Trust
For 93 years, The Chicago Community Trust, the region’s community foundation, has connected the generosity of donors with community needs by making grants to organizations working to improve metropolitan Chicago. In 2008, the Trust, together with its donors, granted more than $100 million to not-for-profit organizations. From strengthening community schools to assisting local art programs, from building health centers to helping lives affected by violence, the Trust continues to enhance our region. To learn more, please visit the Trust online at

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