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Tue, Jun 30, 2015

by Amelia Garza

The CSYI research team: Daphnie Williams, Ka'Reil Gaiter, Lara Brooks, and Greg Slater.

The CSYI research team: Daphnie Williams, Ka’Reil Gaiter, Lara Brooks, and Greg Slater.

Lara Brooks has been working with unaccompanied homeless youth in Chicago for almost 10 years and says the new Chicago Youth Storage Initiative (CYSI) is a public health issue.
“Not having access to storage also can be a real burst of anxiety to the point were it impacts a young person’s mental health especially as it relates to just having access to these things that are really important things like pictures of family members, or gifts, or really important things that were maybe given to us by a family member that we’re holding onto.” Brooks, who authored the CYSI report, said these possessions give youths a “sense of hope or a sense that [they’re] connected to family members who may have passed or are living far away.”

Storage facilities will help youth move on with their lives because they would have important legal documents to help them access a range of public benefits such as healthcare and housing, Brooks said. If lost, these documents could take up to six months to replace.

There are an estimated 12,186 homeless and unaccompanied youths ages 14 to 21 in Chicago, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), yet only 374 youth shelter beds.

The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative (CYSI) is a group of service providers, funders, advocates, and young people that emerged after the Windy City Times Chicago Summit addressed LGBT youth homelessness in May 2014. Although there are storage facilities for homeless people elsewhere in the US, the Chicago youth facility would be the first of its kind.

CYSI plans facilities similar to the Commuter Resource Center (CSRC) at the University of Illinois Chicago. This center provides students with showers, a kitchen, free coffee, lounge space, computers, study space and 600 free lockers. Beginning this summer, CYSI will install 65 units at Ujima Village/Unity Parenting & Counseling and then another 25 units on the North and West sides later this year. Phase one, budgeted at $100,000, also includes efforts to expand partnerships.

Phase two will cost $175,000 and includes hiring a project manager to help expansion. Next year the storage initiative will put more units on the North and South side as well as a high school with a high percentage of homeless students. Neighborhoods with high numbers of homeless youth include Englewood, Garfield Park, Austin, Roseland, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Woodlawn, North Lawndale, and Humbolt Park. However the study recommends a site away from schools because students accessing storage units there could be stigmatized.

Theft is the main cause of violence in shelters and drop-in spaces, according to the CYSI report. When a youths leave their cellphones or other belongings unattended, they may be stolen, leading to fights. One focus group participant in the study stated, “If we had more storage options, I’m sure theft wouldn’t take the program down as much. It would mean fewer incidents, increased sense of safety and productivity, and overall less anxiety.”

CYSI also plans to create a cloud-based document storage initiative through a possible partnership with Google. This will allow homeless youths to store important information and documents, such as resumes, online at either high schools or participating organizations.

CYSI has already attracted private sector support.

“The Pierce Foundation likes to move quickly, and is often able to step up and make investments at the front end of new projects. This effort is something we believe can generate results that matter, within a relatively short period of time,” said Marianne Philbin, executive director of Pierce Family Foundation.

“People who don’t have a stable place to live often don’t have anyplace to store their belongings, which leaves them open to loss or theft of documents, medications, clothing, books and other personal items,” said the Senior Program Officer with Polk Bros Foundation, Debbie Reznick. “Storage will not only help practically, but will be used as an opportunity to engage youth who are not currently accessing services.”


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