Posted by StreetWise in Magazine ArticlesSince Chicago’s Plan 2.0 against homelessness was approved in August 2012, resources for unaccompanied youth have increased from one Lakeview drop-in center and one nearby shelter to six overnight shelters and four drop-in centers across the city.
But unaccompanied homeless youth – who are LGBTQ disproportionate to their numbers in the general population – need more than shelters and drop-in centers, says Tracy Baim, publisher of the Windy City Times newspaper and media group. Baim has also organized the May 2-5 summit, “Owning Our Lives: Dream It. Speak It. Do It!!!” which according to its website, “seeks to shine a public light on LGBTQ homelessness in Chicago.”
The urgency behind the summit, Baim said in a telephone interview, comes from covering the issue for over three decades. “We had the series Generation Halsted in Windy City Times a little over a year ago. That was inspired by racial tensions on North Halsted when dealing with the issue of homeless youth in that area of the city. We felt the summit would bring together youth and adults to talk about larger issues that need solutions.”
Baim brought on board Bonn Wade, who has worked on these issues since the 1990s and who is head of the TransLife Center at Chicago House. Wade in turn hired two youth, Breezy Connor and Keisha LayMorris, who have done outreach to encourage youth attendance.
“Marriage is behind us. Housing is next,” LayMorris says on the summit website.
Kim L. Hunt is the summit’s director, and she is coordinating the three days or workshops and speakers. Hunt is also executive director of Affinity Community Services, whose clients are LBT African-Americans. The team raised the $25,000 cost of the summit through soliciting foundations. The funds are being used to pay for the staff, food, and other expenses, and also to provide each youth with a stipend for attending; Windy City Times is not profiting from the event.
Baim said that most studies show 40 percent of youth on the street are lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual/questioning, which is disproportionate to the 10 percent LGBTQ representation in the overall population. Some of these youth are from biological families, but an even greater number may be from the foster care system, Baim said.
“Some statistics show that if you are LGBTQ in the Department of Children and Family Services, you have about a 78 percent chance of becoming homeless,” Baim said. “That’s about double for what the average is in DCFS.”
The reason, she said, is that some foster families are not attuned to handling youth as they come out with their sexuality or gender identity issues, “and they are coming out younger and younger, as 11, 12-, 13-year-olds.”
Besides a discussion of the foster care system, the summit will have five other tracks: housing, health, policy, legal, job training/education. Youth participants will be admitted free of charge.
Friday’s session, 2-8 p.m. at Lurie Children’s Hospital, 225 E. Chicago Ave., is limited to youth 25 and under who have been impacted by homelessness and/or the DCFS or criminal justice systems. As a bonus, youth attendees will receive a one-day transit pass, a $50 gift card, lunch and snacks and a gift bag.
Saturday’s session, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the University of Illinois/Chicago Behavioral Sciences Building, 1007 W. Harrison St., welcomes not only youth but service providers from nonprofits and government agencies as well as politicians, foundations, activists, academic researchers and other individuals working on these issues. Nicole Sutton will moderate a discussion with state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development representative, and a representative of DCFS. Jama Shelton, Forty to None Project director for the True Colors Fund, will also lead a presentation. Adult registration is $45.
Monday’s session, 8 a.m. to noon at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St., is a report-back for government agency and department heads, politicians, foundations (private, public and corporate), as well as academics, individual donors and others interested in these issues. ESPN commentator LZ Granderson will be MC. Registration is free.
Plan 2.0 was definitely helpful, and Deputy Commissioner John Pfeiffer of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services will attend the summit to discuss the recent homeless YOUth count required by the Plan, Baim said. Baim welcomes the drop-in centers and shelters also mandated by Plan 2.0 that have supplemented the Broadway Youth Center, now at 615 W. Wellington Ave., and The Crib shelter at 835 W. Addison. There was a time when these North Side spaces were the only place for homeless kids anywhere in the city.
But shelter beds are not a permanent solution, Baim said, just an emergency one. Homeless youth need help to finish high school and go on to college or vocational training.
She suggests that corporations headquartered in Chicago could fund internships at LGBT nonprofits or at their own corporations as a way of getting kids into the job pipeline. “Some of these issues have nothing to do with LGBT but could be applied across the board so that kids can afford their own apartments.
“The purpose of the summit is to bring more transparency about ways things are being worked on and potentially to come together for new solutions,” Baim said. “New people might come to the table if they see people working together.” For example, many funders are frustrated, she said, “because they see 20 agencies looking for toothbrushes”—they do not know who fills particular needs and how their money can help them.
Baim sees her role as the impartial bystander who is not affected by grants or grantmaking. She said she would like to see the summit absorbed into the City of Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth, which Pfeiffer co-chairs.
More information or donations can be made at http://chicagosummit.lgbthomelessness.com. Questions or comments can be directed to Kim L. Hunt, at email@example.com.