CENTER ON: Youth Homelessness

Walk in the Shoes of LGBTQ Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Did you know that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ? This overwhelming statistic is included in a recent report by the City of Chicago. Center on Halsted’s Youth Program services initially began in the late 1970s. In order to reach LGBTQ youth in the 70’s, before the days of the internet and social media, our volunteers would routinely place bookmarks in books at Chicago Public Libraries with the addresses and phone numbers that LGBTQ youth could contract for support. Greg Storms, Director of Youth Services says, “In 2016, we reached over 500 young people, ages 13–24. It became apparent that many LGBTQ youth accessing COH’s Youth Program were experiencing homelessness”. The COH Youth Housing Initiative began to end LGBTQ youth homelessness.

Meet Jacqueline. She is a 17-year-old African American youth who identifies as transgender. Because of her gender identity, she has been kicked out of her home. Life on the street is a safer option than the emotional and physical abuse at home. Many shelters are unsafe for LGBTQ youth in Chicago, but let’s assume Jacqueline was lucky enough to get one of the very few shelter beds available the previous night, she must leave the shelter by 8 a.m. She has nowhere to go, so she will walk a little ways down the street until she is asked to move on again.

Even though Jacqueline is hungry, she cannot go to a food pantry for help. Food pantries are designed for individuals who have places to store food and capacity to cook it. Hungry and with nowhere to go, she must get to a shelter before 8 p.m. to see if she can get a bed. With the decrease in safe overnight shelters in Chicago, especially those that are safe for LGBTQ youth, there is a greater likelihood that she will either be forced to sleep outside or seek other arrangements, including providing sex for shelter and/or money.

On the flip side, Jacqueline heard there is programming at Center on Halsted and she goes when someone she knows and trusts also goes there. She drops in, receives an assessment, connects with a Youth Program clinician, and participates in programs that run from afternoon to evening. In the beginning, Jacqueline may get her only meal of the day at COH’s communal dinner. Every day, Jacqueline makes progress since she is able to access services with a case manager to secure housing, food, behavioral health services, meals, vocational training, support groups, art therapy, computer access, vocational and technology training, legal assistance, and access to health care.

Greg shares, “Approximately 50% of Youth Program participants come in saying they are unstably housed. For those who enter the Youth Housing Initiative program, 80% remain in permanent housing”.
Our current Youth Housing Initiative program provides 10 studio apartments for at least 10 youth ages 18 -25. Because of the success of the program, Greg adds, “The strategic goal is to take us to the Southside of Chicago to expand our programs and housing models over the next couple of years and ultimately to provide our own COH-run brick-and-mortar building for LGBTQ homeless youth”.

Will you persist with us to end LGTBQ youth homelessness in Chicago?