"People even today can't fathom the idea that young people are homeless on the streets. It's just ridiculous to think it happens. That's why it's such a big issue... The ideait's like aliens riding the Red Line."
Nomi Michaels Devereaux, LGBTQ homeless youth advocate. Photo by Kate Sosin
Throughout the "Generation Halsted" series, many readers have asked how they can help LGBTQ street-based youth in Chicago.
The best answer might be for community members to pose that question to organizations already serving youth: The Night Ministry, Broadway Youth Center, UCAN's LGBTQ Host Home Program, Youth Lounge, Center on Halsted, Affinity Community Services, Taskforce Prevention and Community Services and others.
Based on our work throughout the series, here's what we suggest:
For the community
Get to know Chicago's LGBT street-based youth
Over the last few years, conversations in Boystown have been ripe with assumptions about LGBT youth who access Lakeview services. But as much as people talk about youth, few seem to talk with them. Young people have ideas about how to improve their communities, and their voices should be amplified. Windy City Times found that LGBTQ youth in Lakeview were open and eager to share those ideas.
Create opportunities for youth to shine
LGBTQ street-based young people are the Lakeview community's greatest underutilized resource. Most have a deep desire to contribute to and be needed by the community around them. Throughout the course of the "Generation Halsted" series, many young people shared with particular pride that they had internships with Lakeview Action Coalition. Others held leadership positions they earned through work with service organizations.
Support the LGBTQ Host Home Program
Of all the services for LGBTQ youth in particular, Host Home Program is one of the only that focuses on long-term solutions to homelessness. Further, it is one of few programs for youth that does not institutionalize them, instead allowing the young people to make their own decisions and live as part of the community while they get back on their feet. Those who want to change the circumstances of street-based youth should consider hosting a young person. Those who cannot volunteer should consider donating money to UCAN.
Support The Crib
The Night Ministry's youth shelter provides what most agree is the only safe nightly shelter for LGBTQ young people. Its services are crucial and unparalleled. Community members can contribute money, in-kind donations and volunteer hours to support it.
Those looking for other meaningful ways to engage and celebrate LGBTQ youth should talk with organizations that already serve youth, such as Broadway Youth Center, The Night Ministry and UCAN's LGBTQ Host Home Program.
Small in-kind donations make a big difference
Think about all the things we use or wear on a daily basis: clothing, shoes, socks, underwear, shampoo, soap, toothpaste, razors... The list goes on. Broadway Youth Center and The Night Ministry regularly distribute these items to street-based youth. Donations of these unused items go directly to young people. Also helpful are CTA fare cards, which allow youth to get out of cold for several hours.
Push for LGBTQ resources and funding on the South and West Sides of Chicago
LGBTQ-specific services on the South and West Sides of the city are few and far between. Those that do exist are underfunded. As a result, many young people have to travel far to get services, and others go without services altogether.
For Service Providers
"It's about standing in solidarity, not in charity." Bonnie Wade, longtime LGBTQ housing advocate
Young people need a long-term fix
There is a dire absence of programs and services for LGBTQ youth that offer long-term solutions to homelessness. One youth interviewed for this series likened that fact to "bad parenting," stating that street-based youth need more than a constant flow of piecemeal services. Service providers should focus on how to transition youth out of homelessness, in addition to offering day-to-day assistance.
Service providers need to sustain programs beyond the grants that create them
LGBTQ service providers frequently reference the number of youth they serve when they make fundraising pitches. But often, many of their youth programs are funded entirely through grants. That means when grants dry up, so do youth programs. Broadway Youth Center's transgender programs in particular have been hard-hit by this reality in recent years.
The Crib, The Night Ministry's youth shelter, has also faced this challenge as the city grant it operates on only covers part of the year. The Night Ministry tries to keep The Crib open by raising private funds to fill in that gap. When it was unable to raise enough this year, local churches stepped up to help supplement some of those services.
Grant-based programming is, of course, inevitable. But wherever possible, service providers should prioritize services for their most vulnerable. That means budgeting for services most direly needed by the community so that those services continue regardless of grants.
Center on Halsted should re-evaluate its policies and practices surrounding youth
Center on Halsted youth staff do great work that is often overshadowed by the organization's strict policies on youth. Banning large numbers of youth only exacerbates the challenges facing youth, Lakeview residents and the Center itself. The Center has stated that it practices "restorative justice," a model for dealing with conflict and harm by healing rather than punishing those involved. What the Center has truly implemented, however, appears only to be a mediated process through which youth are forced to apologize in order to get back into the Center. This leaves little room for the Center to understand its own challenges and shortcomings in dealing with youth.
Center on Halsted staff and security should all receive comprehensive conflict de-escalation training. Security guards should stop publicly handcuffing LGBTQ youth in a Center that is meant to serve as a safe haven, especially in situations where youth are not acting violently in the moment. Further, the Center should reconsider its decision to employ armed off-duty police, which may make as many LGBTQ people feel scared as it does make others feels safe.
For Business owners
Lakeview business owners should form partnerships with service providers through which young people can find work
Street-based youth in Lakeview largely want to find work and genuinely want to feel included in the community around them. Business owners can dramatically improve the circumstances for street-based LGBTQ youth by providing them safe and supportive work opportunities. Broadway Youth Center and Center on Halsted already work with youth on career development. Business owners should work with the organizations so that youth who are ready, can find work in the community.
Local businesses can be resources for youth
Where do street-based youth get haircuts? What happens if a youth has a dental emergency? These are questions that Lakeview businesses could help service providers answer. And businesses that create positive relationships with youth also build goodwill between Lakeview's business community and its street-based population.
For lawmakers and policy advocates
Transgender people need access to gender-affirming medical care
Access to gender-affirming medical care, including hormones and surgeries, would drastically reduce harmful situations facing transgender people in Chicago. Many transgender people choose to engage in sex work to fund gender-related healthcare because that care is so expensive that people are left with few other options. (It is important to note, however, that people engage in sex work for myriad reasons). Others turn to silicone pumping, a relatively inexpensive and extremely dangerous practice wherein an uncertified professional injects silicone into the body to create desired curves.
Recommendations for police are too numerous and serious to name, and addressing the many problems police have in serving LGBTQ young people would require a radical change in the culture of the Chicago Police Department. That said, here are a few small suggestions:
Police urgently need training in LGBTQ issues
Reports about police interactions with transgender people are largely horrific, ranging from verbal harassment to outright physical abuse and discrimination. CPD lacks adequate training that would educate officers about transgender issues. Still, lack of understanding is not an excuse or reason for police to treat transgender as less than.
Chicago Police leaders need to educate the force about the new transgender general order
This August, CPD adopted a general order that mandates more respectful treatment of transgender individuals. CPD leadership needs to create a culture in which abuses against transgender people are not accepted.
Youth should be able to ask police for help without fear of rejection or reprisal
Reporters for this series heard from many youth who said that police ignore their requests for help or assistance when they try to report harassment. Others said that police accuse the young person of being engaged in illegal activity in response to their request for help. LGBTQ street-based youth are far more likely to be victims of crime than the general population. Their requests for assistance should be taken seriously.
For all of us
Organizations regularly hold forums where youth can learn from community leaders about their rights. Community leaders, however, have much to learn from young people. Service providers, funders, elected and non-elected officials, should convene a forum where youth voices are placed center. Windy City Times will gladly assist.
Generation Halsted is an eight-week series that seeks to capture youth voices not typically represented in Windy City Times and other media. The young people portrayed have many housing situations, gender identities and sexual orientations. The series looks primarily, but not exclusively, at Boystown, where an influx of young LGBTQ people has been a source of controversy. Windy City Times will continue to explore the issues raised here beyond this series.
For more see www.youtube.com/windycitytimes and www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes or click the
"YOUTH" tab at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com