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750 Club donors adopt first apartment
2015-04-21

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CHICAGO-The 750 Club Apartment Adoption Project, a new Chicago effort launched in December to provide private apartments for youth moving out of transitional housing, has announced the first apartment adoption. The project was initiated at the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Summit hosted in 2014 by Windy City Times newspaper.

The 750 Club is named for the average monthly rental amount utilized by homeless-serving agencies. In this first success story, a young lesbian couple are the beneficiaries of donations from two dozen people and a foundation supporting the project.

Keonza, 20, and Khanija, 21, have been a couple since 2011, when they met as students at Percy L. Julian High School on the Far South Side of Chicago.

"This apartment will keep us safe," Keonza said. "It will provide consistency and stability." Khanija added that it will help them both be able to work on their education and hold down jobs. They have been navigating living on the streets and in the shelter system.

Keonza said her family does not support her relationship with Khanija, and Khanija's family is unable to provide any financial support. "We don't have other people," said Keonza, who at one point was also in the foster care system in Illinois. "All of our other options would keep us apart."

Funds were raised through The 750 Club, with AIDS Foundation of Chicago as fiscal agent. The funds are distributed to an existing youth homeless agency that has case managers to supervisor scattered-site housing. Keonza and Khanija were selected by La Casa Norte's case manager as the first young people to benefit from the program.

Several individuals and businesses have donated supplies to get the women started in their new apartment. They could still use basic kitchen and home supplies, gift cards for cleaning and food. They also asked for small shelves, as well as a laptop computer-both women have been writing since they were much younger, and they hope to continue as writers of poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

Keonza also would like to study psychology and cosmology, and Khanija, who works in hospitality, would like to work in sports administration.

"It was wonderful to meet Keonza and Khanija," said Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times. Baim is overseeing the project, and is seeking help from team captains willing to recruit friends to commit to raising $25-$75 a month each for two years. "These two young women don't have the family and social network of support many of us rely on. I especially enjoyed discussing their dreams of being writers. We need to help our youth with aspirational thinking, not just survival skills."

"There is a huge need for more resources for youth experiencing homelessness," said Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte. "Unfortunately, numbers continue to rise across our region. In addition to emergency responses, such as shelters, youth also need longer-term housing options that will allow them to focus on education, employment, and building the skills they will need to succeed in adulthood. They need a stable support system that will allow them to take risks and try new things in a health and safe environment. The 750 Club is a really exciting opportunity because it allows interested individuals across our city to come together and make a difference, here is one clear example of ending youth homelessness-this is how the work gets done."

The 750 Club aims to provide additional scattered-site housing to unstably housed youth who are in school or working at least part-time. There is a special focus on LGBTQ youth, but the program is not exclusive. The long term goal of The 750 Club is to take that same amount per month and put that toward building tiny homes in Chicago.

Studies show that stable housing is a basic necessity to maintain health and safety. Without it, youth have difficulty attending school, finding and keeping jobs, eating right, staying healthy, and more.

Online donations and monthly pledges can be done via the AFC website, tinyurl.com/ApartmentAdopt .

For landlords interested in donating the use of an apartment at no or low-cost, please contact Baim to discuss options. Email: editor@windycitymediagroup.com .


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