‘Doubling-up’ Homelessness: Overlooked and Unsupported

Jacqueline Cardenas

CHICAGO ⸺ Electa Bey said she will never forget the day she met her husband at 11-years-old outside her family’s South Side home. 

“I was playing with one of my friends, and I looked around and this guy was coming down. When I looked at him, I could not move. I was stuck.” Sixty-six-year-old Bey recalled with a smile slowly spreading across her face. “Oh, I just knew this was the love of my life.”

Laurel would become the man with whom Bey would have eight children, the man she would laugh with, the man she would cry with, and the man she would share her secrets with for 46 years. 

Laurel would also become the man Bey would experience homelessness with for the first time. 

‘Doubling-up,’ or when a person temporarily lives with others, is one of the most common forms of homelessness in Chicago experienced by predominantly communities of color. 

In 2023, over 68,000 people experienced homelessness in the city and nearly 45,000 of them lived doubled-up, according to a report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Out of nearly 20,000 Latinx people experiencing homelessness, 91% are in doubled-up situations, according to the report. 

While the number of people experiencing homelessness has significantly increased in recent years, there remains an inaccurate narrative about what leads a person to live doubled-up and what that experience can look like. 

LISTEN to Electa Bey…in her own words

Bey married her husband at sixteen and would go on to move to various parts of the city with their two young girls and four boys.

When her family tried to move into an apartment in Westridge, they went through excessive background checks that Bey said were racially discriminative.  

“[The landlord would ask] what kind of credit do you have? How long have you had your credit? Even back then, it was ridiculous and so we were having a really hard time securing a place,” Bey said. “Westridge was just not as open as it should be.”

This led Bey and her family to move in with one of her close friends for nearly a month, though it came with a lot of stress. 

“When you are doubling up …” “You are actually interfering with somebody’s life,” Bey said. “That doesn’t mean that they think you are, but you know you are. You’re changing a whole structure.”

As difficult as it was trying to find housing, living in a shelter “was never an option” because Bey said she never wanted to risk being separated from her husband or children. 

Then, when Bey was in her 50s, her family upended their lives once again and moved in with family members from Roseland, though this time, she was also living with her six grandchildren. 

Bey said she and her husband saw the strain their living situation was having on their grandchildren and tried to maintain any sense of normalcy by taking them to the same after-school programs they would attend before living doubled-up. 

“We kept the same routine that we had all the time. It was like we wasn’t homeless. We didn’t tell people, we didn’t cast it out, but we lived with somebody,” Bey said.

Even then, Bey said she couldn’t ignore how living doubled-up affected her sense of self. 

Electa Bey, Photo: Jim Vondruska/For the Sun-Times

“You can feel like a little bitsy person sometimes, and it’s not that nobody making you feel [that way], but this is what you feel inside. This is a struggle you personally have and that’s why it’s a fear because if you’re having that struggle, what kind of struggle are your babies having?” Bey said. 

Like many, Bey didn’t realize that living doubled-up is a form of experiencing homelessness because of how one naturally becomes an active member of the household. 

“When there’s a pot on the stove, that’s either you cookin’ or them cookin’, but you cookin’ for the whole family. When you go grocery shopping, you’re thinking about the whole family. When you buy toilet paper or soap you’re lookin’ to buy for everybody, you’re doubling-up,” Bey said.

She said that it wasn’t until she attended a city key event and heard guest speakers from Communities United talk about homelessness that her reality started to sink in.   

“You don’t know when you doubled-up, when you living with someone. You really don’t know that…” Bey said. “You don’t have a key, but your family or your friends have opened their doors to welcome you in to be a part of their family.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) current definition of homelessness does not account for those living doubled-up, preventing many individuals from qualifying for necessary housing resources. 

Bey pointed to how those who are living doubled-up also frequently “get lost under the radar” because many people have a narrow view of homelessness.

“You can’t count us on the street, we’re not laying out there,” Bey said. “We go to work every day, we take our kids to school every day, we wash, we buy dinner, we cook, we ride the bus every day. We do all the same things, we go to the library, you can’t tell that we are homeless.”

Despite their hardships, Bey and her family were able to move into a home in the Westridge neighborhood by June 2018. 

“We were just so happy, six grandkids were so happy,” Bey said. 

But by the following year, her husband passed away after battling cancer in his lungs. 

“He was gone…46 years,” Bey said before taking a deep breath. “It really messed my head up… I was lost.”

Shortly after her husband’s death, Bey said she was evicted by her landlord over unrelated personal matters. 

“He wanted me out of his place, and he would come on a day I left; he would change the lock and illegally evict me out of the place. And when I came back, everything was out,” Bey said. 

“There you go, my husband’s gone, and I found myself homeless again,” Bey said. “I had to go back to doubling-up again.”

While Bey was mourning and struggling to find housing of her own, she found ways to support her community through her growing involvement in Communities United. 

“I would knock on doors in Westridge and tell people if you face an eviction, what they could do, the resources they have, if you need food, help with your lights and gas,” Bey said. “I was giving back.” 

Her experience living doubled-up led her to profoundly understand the sacrifices people make to have basic shelter. 

“I would talk to them and let them know, it’s alright, you know I’ve been homeless,” Bey said. “I know what that feels like when you live in unsafe conditions, and you abide by the rules because you have nowhere to go.” 

Bey said her experience has led her to keep fighting alongside her neighbors and grandchildren for equitable housing. 

“I don’t have a lot to give, and if I can give you my time, if I can fight for you with my breath, that makes me feel good.”


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Cover Photo: Electa Bey told the Sun-Times in the article, Nearly 65% of homeless population in Chicago lives in doubled-up, temporary housing that she didn’t consider herself unhoused when she moved in with relatives temporarily after her husband died. “I’m like, OK, I’m staying with family — doesn’t mean I’m homeless. But it did. I had to look at it and say, wait a minute, I have to go sooner or later.” Jim Vondruska / For the Sun-Times

Publisher’s Notes: The Latino Policy Forum and Illinois Latino News (ILLN) are partners in a two-year-long public awareness campaign illuminating the most common form of homelessness experienced in the Latinx community, which is through ‘doubling-up’ or when a person temporarily lives with others.

Illinois Latino News and Latino Policy Forum, thanks the generous support of Chicago Funders to End Homelessness (CFTEH) in providing the funding to make the special coverage possible.

You can support stories like this one by donating to IL Latino News, HERE.

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