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UCAN finds rooms for LGBTQ youth

Wed, Jan 2, 2013

Muffin Phillips

UCAN (Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network) hosts a unique Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth support program in Chicago.

In 2006, Bonnie Wade, a 17-year veteran of social work and current associate director of UCAN’s LGBTQ program, collaborated with other social workers to develop a new model for assisting young people in Chicago facing discrimination.

The first grant came in fall 2009 when the Polk Brothers Foundation provided $30,000. Other early supporters included the Pierce Foundation and Generation Fund.

Today, the program’s budget is $120,000.

The concept was to copy existing housing arrangements, with help provided by people with extra beds in Chicago and the suburbs.

According to Wade, there are currently 10 youths in the program: six men and four women, including one transgendered woman.

“This is an anti-oppression framework, solidarity and positive youth development, not charity,” she said. Providing a safe, stable place for young people is critical.

UCAN is an intergenerational program, with young people who have been homeless working with adults to interview others seeking help through the program.

One woman’s story starkly illustrates the ordeal of young, gay people in Chicago and surrounding areas.

The young woman’s name is Muffin Phillips. She is bisexual and African-American and was once homeless. Now, at 22, she is on the advisory board for the UCAN program.
Raised in her grandmother’s house in the southwest side of Chicago, she clashed with family and ultimately left the house to live on the streets at the age of 19.

While “couch surfing” and struggling to survive the streets of Chicago, she was also juggling a job and school. Although she is a high school graduate who has attended some college, she had to drop out of college to earn money.

It was the Night Ministry in Chicago, she said, that helped her find UCAN. From the beginning, she loved both the program and the people.

For Muffin, UCAN’s staff was a very close-knit family, and she was surprised to find that she was even allowed a dog.

“The host home helped me to come out of my shell to go outside and trust enough people,” she explained.

She is currently helping Bonnie Wade spread the news of UCAN.

“At UCAN, they don’t force you to accept help,” she said.

She explained that there are many resources at UCAN, including job applications, bus fares, and cleaning supplies.

But the most important resource was belief and support. “I finally had a team on my side, telling me that I could do it and be happy, without me going through the system as a number.”

For Muffin, it was a “big, happy family.”

A good story, with a happy ending. But there are more Muffins out there, searching the streets for a family’s love.

Written by Andrew Miller,
StreetWise Contributor

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