Sometimes it's just a snack or a shower. Other times it's a place to stay for the night or a free visit with a clinician. But no matter the circumstance, Teen Living Programs (TLP) serves homeless and precariously housed youth, particularly on the Southside.
When a group of Chicago social workers noticed homeless youth were living in the street, they formed TLP 36 years ago. Originally based on the North Side, TLP served many young people who were triaged out of the Department and Family Services or had aged out of the foster care system. In the 1990s, TLP moved its services to the Bronzeville neighborhood.
The outreach team is the first line of defense for TLP. Peer educators paid interns who have experienced homelessness work in conjunction with the outreach team, visiting areas where the youth congregate to offer them basics like a snack or safe sex kit. The ultimate goal of the team is to foster trust with the youth and get those without a place to stay into safe and stable housing.
"We work by being positive adult allies to the youth," said Jeri Lynch Linas, executive director of TLP.
TLP operates several residential programs, including a shelter for minors, a short-term transitional living program and a subsidized independent living program. Residents are placed by gender into female-identified and male-identified categories.
Each housing program comes with support services that vary from basic medical and psychiatric care to assistance in continuing education to finding employment.
"Young people, as they come in, have had their educations interrupted by experiencing the trauma of homelessness," Lynch Linas said, "so we work on getting them back in school."
Approximately 30 percent of the youth are LGBT, Lynch Linas estimates, touting the need for culturally competent services to foster a sense of trust and safety with the youth.
"The ultimate goal of the youth homeless programs is to prevent adult homelessness," Lynch Linas said. "The idea is, if we intervene at a young age, we can help them make positive choices into adulthood. Not all models work for everyone, so we have to think of new services and multiple points of entry for services to best serve the youth."
But Lynch Linas does not think society has a concrete solution for ending homelessness, yet.
"The reality is, most of what we do as service providers is react," Lynch Linas said. "All the services [we offer] are a reaction to those already experiencing homelessness. How do we address the fact that these young people are homeless because of poverty, because of in adequate housing, because of domestic violence, because of substance abuse? … There is a huge bigger picture to all of this, and we need to figure out if our society has the capacity and the will to address the bigger picture."
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.
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Next week is the eighth and final installment of "Generation Halsted," and Windy City Times wants to include you. If you've read the stories in the paper, watched the videos online or listened on the radio, now is the time to share your thoughts. What have you learned? What would you like to see and hear in future reporting on these topics?
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