FILE - homeless, Illinois, Virus Outbreak Illinois

Three pedestrians wearing protective masks pass a homeless man in Washington Park in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago Thursday, May 21, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – A recent executive order to fight homelessness is drawing upon lessons learned from the pandemic.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order establishing the Illinois Interagency Task Force on Homelessness while creating the position of State Homelessness Chief to lead the task force.

Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services Grace Hou says the pandemic highlighted the need for cross-agency response.

“We want to take the lessons learned from the pandemic in protecting people who are experiencing homelessness and leverage that toward long-term, systemic change,” she said.

The executive order aims to build upon work already done to address homelessness, according to Hou.

“I think we need to remember that not everybody has access to that very basic right, and so we need to continue to fight and work tirelessly,” she said.

The latest study estimates that at any given time 10,000 Illinoisans find themselves homeless, said Hou, and the order sends a message to agencies across the state.

“We will not accept this chronic societal ill of homelessness in Illinois,” she said. “That we know that it’s not an easy task, but we are going to put the heft and weight of our administration behind it.”

Addressing homelessness is complex and involves multiple issues, she said. If it was just one thing, Hou points out it would have been solved already.

Mental health issues, lack of training that leads to a job and substance use are just some of the issues that lead to homelessness which the order takes steps to address, according to Hou.

“How do we as a system correct the systemic breakdowns that people experience and then as a result find themselves being homeless?” she said.

Hou said the governor’s order and the task force create a blueprint for the entire state to follow.

“It’s creating a blueprint that spans across all of the state government and puts responsibility in multiple state agencies to correct their policies, their programs so that there’s a comprehensive, unified approach to attacking this issue,” she said.

For 2021, the state will invest $1.5 billion in housing relief in addition to having extended the eviction moratorium to October 3, 2021, according to a news release from the governor’s office.