StreetLight Chicago launches website companion to free mobile app for homeless youth

Homeless youth and their providers in Chicago now can access StreetLight Chicago using a desktop computer! The free mobile application of resources for homeless youth is accessible on a new website, http://www.streetlightchicago.org

StreetLight Chicago is a database listing resource and healthcare information for homeless youth. It was co-created by the Youth Futures legal aid clinic at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Young Invincibles, with support from the VNA Foundation.

Launched last November as a mobile app, Streetlight Chicago provides youth with a centralized list of drop-in centers, shelters, health clinics, food pantries and more. More than 850 users downloaded the app in its first nine months.

StreetLight also offers an innovative feature called “Book a Bed.” It allows youth who work or attend school at night to reserve a bed at La Casa Norte’s North Side youth shelter, 1940 N. California Avenue.

The new website version is aimed at expanding access to StreetLight’s resources for those without cellphones and makes it easier for service providers to work with youth clients.

“Just like the app, the StreetLight Chicago website provides up-to-date information on resources critical to young adults in Chicago facing homelessness,” said Erin Steva, Midwest Director of the Young Invincibles.

“By launching a website, StreetLight Chicago’s reach and impact will drastically expand. The website will allow Chicago Public Schools and social service providers to find youth the supports they need through the mode providers prefer – their computers. Young adults without smart phones will benefit as well, ensuring broad access to powerful information.”

The creators of Streetlight Chicago plan to further broaden listings to include resources available in suburban Chicago.

Service providers should send any updates for the app to Content Manager Bridget Newsham at streetlightchicago@gmail.com

 

Media Advisory for Thursday, August 10: Lawsuit threatened on viaduct construction

Homeless Encampment Residents and Their Attorneys Threaten Lawsuit Against City of Chicago in Advance of Viaduct Construction

WHAT:

Press conference convened by homeless encampment residents of the viaducts at Lake Shore Drive at Wilson and Lawrence avenues. Construction to repair the viaducts is set to begin soon, and the current re-design puts bike lanes in the sidewalks, which is less safe for pedestrians, bikes, and cars, and which is discriminatory toward homeless people.

Residents and their attorneys will be discussing a letter they are sending to the city’s Corporation Counsel indicating that they are prepared to move forward with a civil action pursuant to the Illinois Bill of Rights for the Homeless Act and to seek injunctive relief under the Act.

WHERE:

Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) – 30 N. LaSalle Street

WHEN:

Thursday, August 10, 11 a.m.

WHO:

Homeless residents of the Wilson and Lawrence viaducts, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and ONE Northside

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(Uptown) Tent City Voices Heard is an Uptown, Lake Shore Drive tent encampment residents’ association that seeks to win the recognition of their rights (including their right to housing and thus to the opportunity to advance their lives), to find housing solutions for its members and, thereby, to help win those rights for all homeless people. We are separate and distinct from the advocacy group, Uptown Tent City Organizers.

For more information, contact Associate Policy Director Mary Tarullo at mary@chicagohomeless.org

Center for Community Change: Housing Trust Fund, home-sharing surcharge to house Chicago families experiencing homelessness

LaTanya Gray, Senior Director of Early Childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children, at the April 20 press conference announcing FIT: “Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night.”

LaTanya Gray, Senior Director of Early Childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children, at the April 20 press conference announcing FIT: “Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night.”

The City of Chicago and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless launched a new initiative, Housing Support for CPS Families in Transition (FIT), to provide permanent housing and services for 100 families experiencing homelessness in high crime communities.  The goal of FIT is to help Chicago’s most vulnerable families to establish stability so that their children can succeed in school and life. The initiative will be funded with a $1 million investment by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund (CLIHTF) matched with funds via the City’s 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs.

Families that are homeless are at a significantly higher risk for experiencing violence, a dynamic that is magnified in communities where there is a high level of violence. Responding to the lack of housing options and support for the more than 9,925 families with school age children experiencing homelessness in Chicago, the Coalition initiated the HomeWorks Campaign.  Working with parent leaders and housing providers, HomeWorks advocates for improved school services and more family-sized housing with supportive services, including housing for families through the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund and the Chicago Housing Authority. The HomeWorks campaign made very clear that despite the overwhelming need for housing by these families, less than 1% were accessing permanent supportive housing.

Drawing from the methodology and lessons from the Ending Veterans Homeless Initiative and the Chronic Homeless Pilot programs, the City and the HomeWorks campaign partnered to lead the FIT initiative.  FIT identifies families with children experiencing homelessness enrolled in the six targeted public schools and provides an assessment for the families using a standard Vulnerability Index. Resources will be targeted to those who are considered to be the most vulnerable. The FIT definition of homelessness includes families that are doubled up and therefore are not eligible for many HUD funded homeless programs.

We are so excited to see dedicated state and local housing resources going towards permanent housing for homeless families, “ said Julie Dworkin, Director of Policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. “In particular, we applaud the city for including “doubled-up” families in those considered eligible for the program as this group has had great difficulty accessing housing assistance due to limited definitions of homelessness.”

This summer, the Coalition, the Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), and Chicago’s the Department of Family and Support Services began the first phase of this effort by reaching out to families enrolled in the Students in Temporary Living Situations program in six targeted schools to inform them about the program. The second phase will include assessment of all the families and placement of the eligible families into 100 new permanent supportive housing units to be added by the Chicago Low Income Housing Trust Fund. Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers, support from a housing provider to locate housing, and wraparound services to support them in maintaining their housing.

The Chicago City Council enacted the 4% surcharge on AirBnB and other home sharing programs in 2016 by a vote of 43-7.  Proceeds for the surcharge are dedicated to funding supportive services and housing for homeless families as well as people who have been chronically homeless.  In addition to the surcharge, the ordinance requires registration, licensing, and data sharing for short-term rentals. The surcharge will generate an estimated $2 million annually.

Read this and other news stories by the Housing Trust Fund Project at the Center for Community Change.

To learn more about FIT, contact Chicago Coalition for the Homeless Associate Policy Director Mary Tarullo at mary@chicagohomeless.org or (312) 641-4140.

CCH golf outing in Wilmette on August 21

Janet Terry and Sue Hayes ready to head out to the course.

Space is still available as the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless brings its annual golf outing back to the Wilmette Golf Club for a third year.

Set for Monday, August 21, the event kicks off with a grilled lunch at 12 noon and tee-off at 1:30 p.m. After golfing, participants enjoy cocktails and a dinner reception, with the opportunity to bid on fabulous silent auction prizes.

Dedicated to the memory of CCH’s long-time director,  John “Juancho” Donahue, the 15th annual golf outing raises critical funds for its work to curb homelessness in the Chicago area.

Golfing slots are still available, with foursomes at $1,500, of which $960 is tax-deductible. Anyone interested in registering can do so online HERE.  For more information, please contact Michael Nameche or call (773) 906-3571.

Former Board Member Andrew Shapiro (left) with his foursome

The 2017 event hosts are Mike Bagley of MB Financial Bank; attorney Angela Barnes;  Nicholas Colvin, general counsel and senior advisor to the Chicago City Treasurer; Brian Forde and Mike Heaton, both of O’Keefe Lyons and Hynes LLC; Larry Suffredin of Shefsky & Froelich, Attorneys at Law; CCH Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg; and John Scholvin of Global Liquidity Partners.

Our golf outing promises to be another memorable day on a beautiful course, dedicated to supporting legal aid and advocacy by CCH staff and community leaders. There’s no better excuse to go golfing than this!

Directions are available here.

– Michael Nameche, Director of Development

Rockford Register Star: Letter to the editor – Rep. Kinzinger should vote no on current health care reform bill

Last week, a group of professionals representing the Illinois Public Health Association, Northern Illinois Public Health Consortium, EverThrive, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Protect Our Care Illinois Coalition supported a press conference in front of Congressman Adam Kinzinger’s Rockford office.

Our message was simple: Please meet with local health department leadership and other health care stakeholders from his 16th District before voting on the next version of health care reform. We also delivered a letter signed by 24 public health and social service organizations from the district asking Rep. Kinzinger to vote no for the health care reform bill as it is currently written.

Out goal for this proposed meeting was to educate Kinzinger regarding the major implications that the current proposed health care reform will have on public and preventative health. the letter was not partisan. During tough budgetary times, public health leadership must speak out for the funds they rely on from the state and federal government to provide essential services to their communities. the current proposed legislation would jeopardize those funds and services.

Prior to last week, our group reached out to Kinzinger’s field staff to schedule this critical meeting and were told that he would not be able to meet with us at all. After a second request following the press briefing, we were offered a brief and cordial conversation with the field representative and were told he would get back to us.

After we left, some of Kinzinger’s staff made comments misrepresenting how things had occurred and questioned our involvement. We must reiterate that the press conference and discussion were both completely pleasant and positive. The group implored the staff to let Kinzinger know that what the public health leadership and health care professionals were asking for was a comprehensive and constructive meeting to discuss the impact of the current proposed legislation.

Many of us work in local, regional and state government, and we believe that working with our elected officials is the best way to assure a strong and robust government system and a successful democracy. The first critical step from Kinzinger’s office would be to respect our efforts toward collaboration and schedule this important meeting.

Given the constant budgetary constraints, health departments must be allowed to tell their stories to prevent further funding cuts. Public health must advocate at the state and national level for recognition of our work to protect the public and promote health.

We are very concerned about the speed at which things are moving in Washington. Kinzinger does not have all the facts about the impact of the bill including that more than 33,000 people in his district would lose health care coverage either through insurance of Medicaid. Nationally, 23 million people would lose coverage. The drastic Medicaid cuts proposed would devastate health care access, including treatment for mental illness and addictions right at a time our nation is in crisis in both of these areas.

Our arguments are not about taking political sides, nor are we suggesting the Affordable Care Act is perfect. This is to ask that both parties work together to improve the ACA rather than quickly repealing it with an inadequate and downright harmful replacement. Because this vote is expected to be so close, it is imperative that Kinzinger be able to make a well-informed decision. We are going to continue to push for a meeting as it is our professional responsibility to protect the health and promote the wellness of our communities and the constitutents of Kinzinger’s districts.

— Tom Hughes, Illinois Public Health Association executive director, and Cathy Ferguson-Allen, IPHA president

A fond farewell to Niya Kelly

By Niya Kelly

After almost two years as a policy specialist at CCH, I am leaving to join the staff at the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network.

Niya Kelly with State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch

At CCH I staffed the Homeless Youth Committee, a statewide group of 38 homeless youth providers. I also worked on state budget advocacy with the Responsible Budget Coalition, serving on its executive, legislative, and field committees, ensuring CCH was a part of the conversations concerning Illinois’s budget crisis.

This spring I served as a lead on three pieces of youth-related legislation passed by the General Assembly: House Bill 3211 (College Student Hunger), working with Heartland Alliance and Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; HB3212 (Access to Housing for Homeless Minors); and HB3709 (Mental Health Service Increase for Minors) with EverThrive Illinois. Each measure would ensure that homeless youth can access important services that can ultimately lead to their successful launch into adulthood.

Niya speaking at a press conference on February 29, 2016 to urge funding of critical human services.

At the Battered Women’s Network I will serve as Director of Strategic Initiatives and Public Policy. I’ll continue working on the budget and bringing together advocates and people receiving services. I believe in bringing survivors and service providers to the table, recognizing the diversity of thought and the intersectionality of class, race, sexuality, and gender on issues impacting survivors. My work at CCH taught me the importance of leaders leading initiatives, having organizers, law and policy at the table to work on advocacy initiatives, and that people power can move mountains.

Caprice Williams speaks to members of the press following the Feb. 19, 2016 meeting with Gov. Rauner.

I’ve really enjoyed my time at CCH. Though this is not my accomplishment, I took pride in seeing some of our extremely shy youth leaders come out of their shells as we worked on getting a budget meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner. Caprice Williams participated in a sit-in at the governor’s Chicago office, quietly sitting in the corner. She continued to participate in actions and later met with the governor; her poise and honesty in that meeting moved me. She later shared her experience of homelessness and her meeting with the governor with Crain’s Chicago Business. Seeing Caprice blossom is the true meaning of what this work means to me and I will carry it with me always.

Schoolhouse Connection: Innovation Spotlight – School-Housing Partnership Serves Homeless Families Who Are “Doubled-Up”

By Mary Tarullo, Associate Director of Policy, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

HomeWorks, a housing and schools campaign spearheaded by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), is working with the city of Chicago to launch a program to provide housing for homeless families with children.

Among its innovations, the program will include doubled-up families – those seeking shelter with other people – after assessing the most vulnerable among 264 homeless families identified at the six schools. It marks the first time that local housing dollars will serve doubled-up Chicago families.

Announced in April, the program will offer permanent housing and supportive services to 100 homeless families from six Chicago elementary schools in high-crime neighborhoods.

“We are thrilled that the city committed a new resource for housing for homeless families, and in particular, that it recognizes the needs of highly vulnerable doubled-up households that previously have not been able to receive housing and services,” said CCH Executive Director Doug Schenkelberg.

HomeWorks organized in mid-2015 to advocate that the city prioritize addressing family homelessness, including school services and the needs of doubled-up families, just as veteran homelessness was prioritized a few years ago.

Housing Homeless Families will be funded by a $1 million yearly investment from the Chicago Low-Income Housing Trust Fund, with $900,000 from the city’s new house-sharing (Airbnb) tax.

Last year, HomeWorks worked with the mayor’s office and the Chicago City Council to enact a 4 percent surcharge on the house-sharing industry, making Chicago among the first municipalities to leverage a dedicated funding source for homelessness. CCH also pushed for the housing trust to dedicate new housing resources after CCH helped secure the release of escrowed funds owed the rental housing support program.

The city and family housing providers will identify families, working closely with shelters specializing in family services and with the Chicago Public Schools.

Families identified for the program will receive housing vouchers and be matched to a provider who helps them locate housing, ensuring a smooth transition.  Housing navigators will help families get to appointments and obtain required documents for their housing applications. Families will continue to work with providers as they receive wraparound services to support them in maintaining permanent housing.

In a press conference to announce the new program, CCH released a report on doubled-up homeless families in Chicago. The report shows that 82% of homeless people living in Chicago in 2015 sought shelter with relatives and friends, or doubled-up. To assess the size of Chicago’s homeless population, CCH developed a new methodology using U. S. Census data. This method also provides a more precise understanding of how many families are doubled-up.

The report shows that 82,212 people were homeless in Chicago in 2015, an unduplicated count. Eighty-seven percent of homeless families (8,634 families) with children were doubled-up.

CCH also found that 44% of homeless families served by the emergency shelter system had doubled-up with friends or family, either prior to or after entering the shelter system within that year. This shows many families experience both types of homelessness, cycling in and out of shelters and the homes of others.

They include families like Chrishauna Thompson’s. Her family became homeless after Chrishauna’s mother suffered a back injury, leaving her unable to work two caregiver jobs. Over the next four years, Chrishauna, 17, changed schools nine times as her family doubled-up with different relatives.

“Doubled-up is homeless,” said Chrishauna. “I never had a key. I didn’t have privacy. A lot of times I was late for school waiting for a shower. I was worried that we could be put out at any time.”

As of now, there is no path for doubled-up families to access the housing resources made available to families in shelters. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses a limited definition of homelessness that includes people at “a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter… (or) a public or private place not designed for a regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.”


“Most of our families have spent years without secure housing, sleeping on couches or floors, never sure if they’re going to have a place to stay the next night,” said LaTanya Gray, senior director of early childhood for the Primo Center for Women and Children. Newly relocated to the city’s South Side, the Primo Center provides housing and services to over 500 homeless families in Chicago a year.

Working with children from birth to age 5, Gray says she sees the impact of homelessness on young children. Many suffer from anxiety.

“They’re angry and sometimes act out. Their young lives have been so chaotic,” Gray explained.

Eight housing providers partner with CCH on the HomeWorks campaign: AIDS Foundation, Beacon Therapeutic, Catholic Charities, CSH (Corporation for Supportive Housing), Facing Forward to End Homelessness, Heartland Alliance, Primo Center for Women and Children, and Unity Parenting and Counseling Center.

Editors note: Public schools, early childhood programs, and other federal programs use a definition of homelessness that does include families who are staying with others temporarily because there is nowhere else to go (doubled-up). The Homeless Children and Youth Act (H.R. 1511/S. 611) would amend HUD’s definition of homeless to include children and youth who have been determined to be homeless by these federal programs. The legislation would require HUD to honor local communities’ priorities, including by allowing using HUD homeless assistance to assess and serve these families and youth.

Take Action to Support HCYA Today:

  1. Urge your Members of Congress to sign-on as co-sponsors of H.R. 1511/S. 611.
  2. Sign your organization on to a letter to Congress to show support.
  3. Spread the word to community partners, colleagues, and others.

At last! After two years Illinois legislators pass a state budget, overriding the governor’s veto

By Niya Kelly, Policy Specialist

After two fiscal years without a budget, the Illinois House and Senate came together in bipartisan fashion to enact a budget and revenue package, with final veto override votes on July 6.

Two years without a budget devastated the Illinois safety net. Homeless and housing service providers laid off staff, discontinued programs, and shuttered their doors. The budget crisis not only impacted social services statewide, it jeopardized higher education’s accreditations, dropped the state’s bond rating to near-junk status, and threatened schools’ ability to reopen this fall.

Before the budget and tax measures were enacted, the state comptroller was warning that Illinois state government did not have enough cash to continue operations by August. Another hurdle was created when a federal judge ruled last week that Illinois must begin paying $586 million a month to Medicaid providers, covering a $3.1 billion backlog of unpaid bills.

More than 25% of all state-supported agencies had shuttered programming since the impasse began in 2015, according to a recent United Way survey.

A March lobby day in Springfield (Photo by Allison Williams)

In its budget advocacy, CCH staff brought more than 1,150 homeless leaders and students to Springfield for 23 lobby days over the past two years. We pushed for a responsible revenue package and to ensure homeless and housing services received adequate funding in the proposed budget.

Senate leadership began working on a “Grand Bargain” in late 2016. Then-Republican Leader Christine Radogno (Lemont) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) worked on several compromises sought by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, such as pension reform and a property tax freeze, as well as school funding (Senate Bill 1), a state budget (SB6), and tax revenue (SB9).

There were times the leaders walked away from the table and called off talks. In the end, the Senate passed both SB6 and SB9. The budget bill, SB6, funds homeless and housing services for the remainder of FY17 and FY18. Based on FY15 numbers, the homeless youth line item was cut 5% for FY18, while supportive housing took a 1.8% cut, emergency and transitional housing funding remains the same, and homeless prevention grants received a 24% increase (up $975,000 from $4 million).

The SB9 revenue bill increased the personal income tax rate from 3.75% to 4.95% and the corporate tax from 5.25% to 7%. These rates will be permanent. The personal tax rate is slightly lower than a temporary 5% rate that expired in 2015, bringing in much needed revenue.

Gov. Bruce Rauner had several of his “reform” demands met in the Grand Bargain, yet he vetoed the budget and revenue bills. The Senate and the House overrode the Governor’s veto.

When the House took up the vote for SB6 and SB9, several Republicans, including floor leader Rep. Steve Andersson (R-Geneva), decided to vote yes. SB6 passed 81-34, a veto-proof margin. SB6 passed the Senate 39-6, also veto-proof. SB9 was passed 72-45 in the House and 36-18 in the Senate, again veto-proof.

CCH was an active advocate through the years of the budget crisis, partnering on the Responsible Budget Coalition.

This included CCH advocating for the release of special funds last year in budget bills HB4955/SB2603, and rallying leaders at Thompson Center protests. Homeless youth and their providers met one-on-one with Senate President Cullerton and Gov. Rauner.

CCH leaders participated in one of the largest State Capitol rallies in the state’s history, dubbed the State of Our State. CCH mobilized what’s believed to be the first sit-in at the Executive Mansion in April 2016, with youth asking the governor to release homeless funds. This May, CCH mobilized 75 leaders for an action at Gov. Rauner’s Winnetka mansion.

With budget advocacy led these past two years by Policy Specialist Niya Kelly, CCH organizers mobilized more than 1,150 leaders from all over Chicago, as well as Aurora, Bellwood, Bolingbrook, Champaign, Naperville, Niles, Palos Heights, Park Ridge, Waukegan, and Wheaton.

 

Horizons outreach program showcases parent and child poets

Wayne Richard watches as Dionne Naize offers her poetry

Horizons creative writing workshop hosted 35 parents and children from two South Side shelters at its yearly poetry showcase, held June 20 at Chicago’s Intuit gallery, 756 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

Seven parents and three children shared their own poetry during a one-hour showcase.

Residents from Primo Center for Women and Children and A Safe Haven South participated, led by Associate Director of Organizing Wayne Richard. Through Horizons, Wayne leads bi-weekly writing sessions for parents and older children at five family shelters.

“This is my first time reading my poetry, so I’m kind of nervous,” the evening’s first poet said, smiling. “So deal with it.”

Then, as her three children watched, Ms. Liddell recited several pieces. They included:

Sherwanna Liddell

“Maybe I try too hard to make a future for myself and my children… Maybe I’m tired of your labels, your countless lies… I’m trying to become someone who loves herself.”

Ms. Liddell’s older daughter, Sherwanna, 15, followed her mother on stage, sharing her poems “Life” and “Symbiosis.”

The audience later voted for their favorite poets. Through enthusiastic applause, they singled out Angelina Dunn as runner-up, with Dionne Naize the winner.

Mrs. Naize offered a poem, “Daddy’s Little Girl,” written after the recent death of her father:

Mrs. Naize is announced the winner, celebrated by Jaylen Jelkes, her son Denim Smith, Linda Moree, Charres Liddell and Sherwanna Liddell.

“As a little girl there were only stories of you… Our visits were few, but the love sure did last.”

Other participating poets were Candice Brow, Chris Jelkes and his son Jaylen, Linda Moree, Denim Smith, and Wendy Woods.

Booklets were published by Horizons featuring some of the poetry. Other work is featured online in our Horizons Reading Room.

Horizons is supported by longtime grants from the Seabury Foundation, with internship assistance by graduate students from Adler University. Our 2017 Adler intern was Lucy Gonzalez.

– Photos by Jeff Foy, story by Anne Bowhay

Announcing our 2017 college scholarship winners

The 2017-18 Scholars, (front, from left) Kristen Lang, Niani Scott, Mayra Fajardo, Avery Williams, Ayrianna Longs, Amber Rodriguez; (2nd row, from left), Jennessa Martinez, Edwin Casas, Jessica Lee, T’Prinn Ingram, Claudia Kubarycz-Hoszowska, Prince Washington, Dontay Lockett, Nia Hill (Not pictured: Kimberly Azpeitia, Catherine Jones, Cassandra Murff) Photo by Jeff Foy

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and its Law Project has awarded renewable $2,500 college scholarships to four students who succeeded in high school while coping with homelessness. Funded by private donors and grants, CCH has awarded more than $270,000 to 55 students since 2004.

Scholarship winners Mayra Fajardo, Niani Scott, Prince Washington, and Avery Williams were honored at a public awards event on June 22.

“We are inspired by these remarkable students,” said Law Project Director Patricia Nix-Hodes. “Despite unstable housing and other barriers, they have demonstrated a commitment to their education. We look forward to seeing what these leaders accomplish in their college years and beyond.”

Our program’s newest college graduate, Gesenia Viviescas, was featured speaker at an awards event hosted by Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Gesenia Viviescas at our 2016 Scholarship Awards Ceremony

In May Gesenia earned a bachelor’s degree from DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., majoring in religious studies and spending a term in China. She served as a DePauw Presidential Ambassador, president of her sorority, and participated in DePauw student government. This spring Gesenia won a prestigious Fulbright award to teach English in Taiwan next school year. She hopes to later earn a master’s degree in international studies, with an eye to entering the diplomatic service.

In her address, Gesenia talked of the difficulties she and her sister overcame: Forced as teens to separate from their mother in Colombia, the girls returned to the U.S. They stayed with one relative before becoming homeless, then were allowed to double-up with a relative who made them live in her basement. Gesenia sold chocolate bars at school to earn money for herself and her sister, earned good grades, and was active at Chicago’s Carl Schurz High School. She credits Schurz counselor Eve Kelly for getting her to apply in 2013 for the CCH scholarship — “pushing the application on me about four times.”

“Having received the scholarship changed my outlook on my identity,” said Gesenia. “Being apart of a group of scholars so determined despite their obstacles means something bigger.

“The concept of home as a homeless student is often fuzzy or seems unrealistic. Throughout my life, I lived in two different countries, three different states, and have attended over 11 different schools. I have found that home is more than a physical structure. Home is finding appreciation in yourself. Home is surrounding yourself with individuals that will push you, that will challenge you, and that will care for you simultaneously.

“For my new and current recipients, remember that your story matters and that transformation in our communities is coming. Be patient with yourself, because healing isn’t linear. You have overcome so much and your strength will take you many places. For the donors and people who have supported homeless students, just know that your work doesn’t go unnoticed. Your dedication to be agents of change have transformed my life and the lives of others more than words can thank.”

To date, 14 scholarship recipients have graduated with bachelor’s degrees, 39% of the 36 students eligible to do so. This compares well per a February 2015 study that showed just 9% of students from the lowest income bracket ($34,160 or lower) had earned a bachelor’s by age 24 (University of Pennsylvania and Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education). Three additional CCH scholarship students have earned associate or nursing degrees.Supporters of the scholarship program, the family, friends and teachers of our students, and program graduates are invited to attend the public, free-of-charge event.

Also honored were 14 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, earlier scholarship winners who will receive renewal awards of $2,500. They attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Blackburn and Columbia colleges, DePaul and North Park universities, University of Illinois campuses in Chicago and Champaign, and the historically black colleges and universities of Benedict, Howard, and Tougaloo.

The Law Project launched the program to encourage and showcase homeless youth with whom it works – in 2016, 87% of its 404 legal aid clients were homeless students or youth. CCH scholarships help graduating seniors who have experienced homelessness, some of them for most of their lives. Long focused on helping Chicago Public Schools students, suburban students have been eligible since 2015.

Eighteen high school seniors applied by the April 14 deadline. The 2017 winners are:

Mayra Fajardo, Chicago – University of Illinois-Chicago: Following her parents’ return to Ecuador, Mayra has been an unaccompanied youth for two years, living with different friends’ families. With a 3.5 GPA at Lane Tech College Prep High School, Mayra plans to study psychology.

Niani Scott, Bolingbrook – University of Illinois-Champaign: With experience blogging and in poetry competitions, Niani has decided to study at U. of I.’s journalism school. When she was a high school freshman, Niani was represented by the CCH Law Project and a Chicago law firm after school officials questioned her family’s then-homeless status. She later finished high school in South Africa, after securing a scholarship to study abroad. Taking a gap year before college, Niani has worked at the law firm that once helped her, Burke, Warren, MacKay and Serritella.

Prince Washington, Chicago – University of Illinois-Springfield: Prince plans to study political science with a minor in educational leadership. He wants a career as a teacher, and one day to enter politics. Prince said he loved his years at Argo Community High School in suburban Summit – in part, because after homelessness forced him to move out of the district, school officials encouraged him to stay at Argo. That’s the option that state and federal law allows for homeless students, but Prince said school officials, particularly Supt. Kevin O’Mara, were always there for him and helped him succeed. Prince participated in Argo’s theater program, speech team, and the Principle’s Advisory Committee, and works in restaurants to support himself.

Avery Williams, Chicago – Savannah College of Art and Design: A talented artist, Avery plans to study animation and visual effects for movies and TV. Avery said she always loved how movies offer “a break from the problems and stresses in your life” – something her family experienced when living in shelters. She earned a 4.06 GPA and participated in three exhibitions during two years studying art at Gallery 37. Avery also works part-time for her mother’s catering service, Moxie Chicago.

The college scholarship program is funded by designated donations and by grants from the Osa Foundation, Susan W. Pearson Memorial, and the North Shore-based Student Alliance for Homeless Youth. All donations to the program are fully tax-deductible.

Thanks to a generous incentive created by the Osa Foundation, when students earn a cumulative grade point average of “B” or better, they receive a laptop. Nineteen students have earned this honor, including five new winners this year: rising sophomores Nia Hill (Howard University), Claudia Kubarycz-Hoszowska (University of Illinois/Champaign), Dontay Lockett (Columbia College Chicago), and Ayrianna Longs (North Park University), and rising junior Jennessa Martinez (SAIC).

The 8-member Scholarship Selection Committee includes Jennifer Salgado-Benz, a 2012 scholarship winner and Lake Forest College grad; Daihana Estrada, a 2010 scholarship winner and UIC grad; retired CCH Executive Director Ed Shurna; and Patricia Rivera, founding donor of the scholarship and retired director of the CPS homeless education program, now directing shelter-based tutoring for Chicago HOPES. Also, on the committee are CCH’s intake coordinator, Roberto Martinez; social worker Monica Mahan; and Claire Sloss and Anne Bowhay of the development/media staff.

– Photos by Jeff Foy and Claire Sloss, story by Anne Bowhay