Chicago Youth Storage Initiative ( CYSI )a project that was sparked by a poem by youth activist Breezy Connor at the close of the 2014 Windy City Times summit on LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessnesscelebrated its wind down June 26 at the Godfrey Hotel.
When CYSI started installing storage lockers and other devices into shelters in 2015, there were just 40 storage options for youth across the entire city. At the completion of CYSI three years later, there are 755 additional safe storage options across 22 shelters, drop-ins and schools in all regions of the city, and in some suburbs.
CYSI is passing its work and future management of the project to Lyte Collective, a grassroots program now renovating a building complex in Grand Crossing on Chicago's South Side. They will have 200 lockers in addition to many other services for youth experiencing housing instability and poverty.
After the Windy City Times summit, Marianne Philbin and Heather Parish from the Pierce Family Foundation called WCT Publisher Tracy Baim into a meeting to discuss the need for safe storage of possessions, as Connor had passionately spoken about in her poem.
Debbie Reznick of Polk Bros. Foundation and Becky Knight of the Knight Family Foundation soon joined the team, along with Jeanne Kracher of Crossroads Fund, Julie Owens of Owens Family Foundation, Mignon Stewart from Prince Charitable Trusts and community activist Michael Mock to create a Steering Committee.
Pierce Family Foundation committed to pulling the team together to first hire Lara Brooks to coordinate a short-term study, with youth, to look to a range of solutions. Next, several kinds of storage devices started to be purchased and installed at agencies. When Brooks took a new position in San Francisco, Megan Wickman was hired to seamlessly continue the tasks.
In addition to 755 storage devices ( ranging from full-size lockers to locking phone-charging stations ), the project also worked with Google to create safe access to online storage for important documents and photos.
CYSI's mission was not just about storagethough safe storage was what youth asked for so they could experience less stress about their belongings, less theft and less violence. The mission also included providing low-barrier ways for youth experiencing housing instability to enter into support services and get additional help they needed. In some cases, CYSI also helped provide laundry machines at facilities that were able to utilize them.
Though the project started out of the LGBTQ summit, CYSI has always been about lifting up all youth, inclusive of LGBTQs, who make up anywhere from 20-40 percent of the youth homeless population. Agencies receiving storage support included Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, Teen Living Programs, Broadway Youth Center, El Rescate, La Casa Norte, Center on Halsted, The Night Ministry, Brave Space Alliance and Northwest Compass.
The CYSI Storage Toolkit will be made available free through Lyte Collective, for agencies locally and nationally that serve any population facing housing instability. The report will be listed soon here: www.lytecollective.org/lyte-lounge/ .
Read final report here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/YouthStorageWrap-UpFinal.pdf .
Also see the original needs assessment done with youth here: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/CYSI-Report-Digital-05-15-15.pdf .