Homeless youth are defined in this report as unaccompanied young people ages 14-25 that do not have a safe, stable place to live. Youth often leave home or are forced out due to physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse by a parent, and long-term family economic problems. Pregnant and parenting teens, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) youth, and current and former wards are disproportionately represented in the homeless youth population. During the 2009-2010 school year, the Chicago Public Schools identified 3,682 unaccompanied homeless youth in school. Based on CPS data, data from shelters, and data from other research on homelessness, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless has developed a methodology to estimate total numbers of homeless youth, children, and adults each year including those living doubled up. According to this estimate, there were a total of 11,471 homeless youth ages 18-21 in Chicago during the 09-10 school year. This includes youth who were not in school or were not identified by the schools. Shelter and housing programs in Chicago do not come close to meeting the need for housing for young people. A survey conducted for this report found that the eight programs providing shelter and housing to homeless youth turned away 4,775 requests for housing from youth in a year. When youth are not able to access shelter they are extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual victimization on the streets.
Background on the City of Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth
The City of Chicago Task Force on Homeless Youth is a network of city and state agency officials, youth providers and advocates, and homeless youth working to address the issue of youth homelessness in Chicago. The group was developed through the advocacy of the H.E.L.L.O. youth activism group.
H.E.L.L.O. stands for Homeless Experts Living Life's Obstacles and is composed of homeless and formerly homeless youth and co-sponsored by The Night Ministry, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), and Lakeview Action Coalition. The group is rooted in community organizing and positive youth development principles. The youth educate the public, policy-makers and the media about issues affecting homeless and unaccompanied youth while learning to communicate effectively and non-violently. The group is very diverse, consisting of youth of color, pregnant and parenting teens, and LBGTQ youth.
Every year, H.E.L.L.O. hosts a homeless youth "art show and speak out", where youth are invited to submit spoken word and visual arts pieces. Over 200 members of the community attend the show each year. In November of 2009, Mayor Daley attended the Art Show. He spoke briefly and promised the youth in attendance he would meet with them to discuss how the city can better serve homeless youth.
In January 2010, 25 members of the H.E.L.L.O. Group had a private meeting with Mayor Daley and other city officials. The youth shared their stories and gave a presentation on different ways the city can improve services for homeless youth. They identified five different areas in which the city could improve services for homeless youth: transportation, education, jobs, increased shelter beds, and improved drop-in services.
The Mayor also committed to the creation of a city-wide homeless youth task force. The Department of Family and Support Services hosted the task force. Out of the task force, five work groups were developed to work on the specific issues identified by the youth. Each work group met over several months, researched their area of concern, collected information and developed recommendations that the City of Chicago could use to guide a citywide effort to first improve the plight of homelessness experienced by youth and eventually eradicate this problem. Homeless youth were represented on each workgroup and were given a chance to react to the recommendations. Finally, the task force as a whole approved the recommendations. This report represents the recommendations of the city-wide youth task force.