CHICAGO (August 14, 2019) — There are 15,744 unaccompanied homeless youth in Chicago, according to the most recent count from Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Nationally, there is growing recognition that partnering with young people, particularly youth of color and LGBTQ youth, is the fastest way to dramatically improve outcomes for young people experiencing housing instability and homelessness. Ending youth homelessness in Chicago is possible, especially when young people who have experienced homelessness are leading the way.
Through a new Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund, Polk Bros. Foundation and The Crown Family are collaboratively investing $500,000 to encourage new local momentum on an issue that has seen tremendous innovation nationally. The two foundations, both longtime supporters of efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness in Chicago, created the Fund earlier this year in coordination with the City and with support from the Chicago Community Trust.
“Nationally, there has been a focus on bringing young people with lived experience of homelessness into the center of this work, particularly youth of color and LGBTQ youth, who are disproportionately impacted,” says Polk Bros. Foundation Senior Program Officer Debbie Reznick. “I’ve been inspired by how other cities have brought young people to the table, to define what’s needed, to decide where resources go and to become leaders in the work. I believe the initiatives funded through the Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund will increase meaningful youth leadership here in Chicago, and help bring their expertise to the effort to end youth homelessness in our city.”
One in 10 young adults experience homelessness over the course of a year, according to Chapin Hall’s 2017 “Missed Opportunities” report. LGBTQ youth and youth of color are at greater risk of experiencing homelessness. LGBTQ youth are also at greater risk for experiencing high levels of hardship, including higher rates of assault, trauma, exchanging sex for basic needs, and early death. Black LGBTQ youth, especially young men, have the highest rates of homelessness.
Young people with lived experience of homelessness informed the creation of the Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund Request for Proposals earlier this year, and emphasized that investments to end youth homelessness must be informed by them, and their voices must also be represented in proposed solutions.
“As a previously homeless youth, I’ve encountered many things that tested the strength of my will and integrity,” says Caprice Williams, member of Chicago Continuum of Care’s Youth Action Board. “There is a cycle of unfortunate events that can cause homelessness. Generational trauma, poor education systems, domestic violence, gun violence, lack of access to mental health care, and much more. I continue to see other young people that do not have what I did, someone who was always there to pull me through. Young people need each other, and they need adults who can become allies. The best way to resolve youth homelessness and make sure it never occurs again is to make sure young people are heard, so everyone understands the root of it all and what it will take to change things. Our strength is in each other.”
The funded Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund solutions will ignite new and expand existing work in the youth homelessness sector, creating meaningful pathways for young adults to access quality jobs that provide economic mobility, secure stable and long-term housing, realize their potential and lead efforts to end homelessness. These initiatives will also develop avenues for organizations advancing innovative service delivery and structural change work to grow, influence collective efforts, address systemic barriers and engender insights that benefit the field. They demonstrate that those most affected by youth homelessness should inform and lead the solution and that efforts are accountable to low-barrier, harm reduction and trauma-informed models. Young people who have experienced homelessness have heavily informed and influenced these innovative ideas and will be co-leaders in implementing them.
“We were impressed by the scope and creativity of submissions and grateful for the dedication of changemakers in our city to ending youth homelessness,” says Crown Family Philanthropies Program Director of Health and Human Services Christy Prahl. “Together these efforts, driven by young people with lived expertise, will test new ideas and build on previously gained wisdoms. We believe these grants will generate insights and learning that will shape new ways forward.”
“Public/private partnerships are critical to evolving effective solutions for people experiencing homelessness,” says Chicago Department of Family and Supportive Services (DFSS) Director of Homeless Prevention, Policy and Planning Maura McCauley, who helped shape the Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund RFP and participated in the grant review committee. “DFSS values the partnership with the Youth Homelessness Innovation Fund because it creates the space for community partners to innovate and test new strategies, with particular attention to the needs of LGBTQ+ youth and youth of color, without the restrictions that often come with public funds.”