On May 19th, 2015 the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative released its final report on the experiences of the youth homeless population in Chicago to its partner agencies and funders. The report focuses on the ways in which lack of access to safe storage options effect the lives of Chicago’s homeless youth.
The effects of lack of storage options is far-reaching and can complicate the path to education, healthcare, and access to social services and financial support for the region’s homeless youth. As Debbie Reznick, Senior Program Officer with Polk Bros Foundation, states in a recent article about the project in The Windy City Times: “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. Storage will not only help practically, but will be used as an opportunity to engage youth who are not currently accessing services."
The report researched both the needs of Chicago’s youth and the models of adult-focused, city-wide storage in other U.S. locations. Chicago’s storage options are extremely limited currently, and Chicago would be the first U.S. city to coordinate such an effort for young people.
Some key findings of the report include:
- Familial support sometimes extends to storage of belongings but not housing.
- Many young people trust at least one youth worker with their belongings and documents.
- Violence prevention and preventing the loss or theft of personal belongings are connected.
- Lack of storage means taking steps back, even when youth are trying to move forward.
Some recommended actions include:
- Satellite storage program in close proximity to a youth drop-in center.
- Storage program within or in close proximity to a high school or several high schools with large numbers of unaccompanied students experiencing homelessness.
- Web-based documentation project, possibly through a partnership with Google, piloted within an organization with existing case management services and experience engaging young people experiencing homelessness.
- Program similar to the Commuter Student Resource Center ( CSRC ) at the University of Illinois-Chicago in other post-secondary institutions, such as City Colleges of Chicago.
"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, Pierce Family Foundation Executive Director, as quoted in the Windy City Times article. "We are excited about the findings of this report and look forward to working with other foundations in helping address this issue."
The impetus for both the CYSI and the report came from LGBTQ Youth Summit hosted by Windy City Times in 2014. The CYSI is supported by The Pierce Family Foundation, Polk Bros Foundation, and other foundations including The Knight Family Foundation. The project was coordinated by Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times, and the needs assessment and recommendations were written by research leader Lara Brooks with youth advocates Ka'Riel Gaiter, Gregory Slater and Daphnie Williams. Heather Parish, program director with the Pierce Foundation, Flora Koppel, executive director of Unity Parenting, and community volunteer Michael Mock of Lincoln Financial Advisors also served on the advisory committee with Baim, Philbin and Reznick.