Unaccompanied youth, living without a family or guardian, face day-to-day challenges that can cloud their adult lives. They must secure food and shelter, find a job or return to school. Often, they are unclear where to seek help and who they can trust.
CCH has advocated for the needs of unaccompanied youth since it organized a Youth Committee in 1983. Comprised of 38 youth-serving agencies – 25 in Chicago, six from the suburbs, and seven in downstate Illinois – the Youth Committee helps our No Youth Alone campaign advocate for policies and programs serving unaccompanied youth.
Thousands of youth across Illinois cope with homelessness. In 2005, CCH was involved in a comprehensive state-run study that found almost 25,000 Illinois youth experience homelessness each year, about 9,000 of them in the Chicago area. About one-third blamed family conflict. Other common reasons included physical or sexual abuse by a parent or family member. Three out of five youth said they had been the victims of violence in the prior 12 months. Many said they were throw-aways, not runaways.
In 2014, CCH drafted and advocated for House Bill 4501, which allows unaccompanied minors to consent to their own medical care for non-emergency illnesses and injuries. It took effect in October 2014. Bringing Illinois in line with 17 other states, the amendment allows minors, ages 14 to 18, to consent to their own care, when previously they were turned away even from school-based clinics if they lacked a parent/guardian to sign a consent form.
No Youth Alone also mobilizes youth and youth providers to advocate for state and city resources. In 2012, the youth campaign persuaded legislators to restore some of the 33% ($1.6 million) in yearly funding cuts that had been imposed on homeless youth programs over four years – the state allocated $4.1 million in FY13, or $900,000 (28%) more. An additional $500,000 was restored in FY14. And in the 2014 legislative session, the FY15 state budget allocated a much-needed $1 million increase, to $5.6 million. The city of Chicago reallocated $2 million a year to increased shelter and drop-in programs, beginning with FY13. After extensive advocacy by CCH and the Youth Committee, a stop-gap state budget enacted in June 2016 funded homeless youth programs at 76% of FY15 levels.
Youth attorney Beth Malik runs a mobile legal aid clinic that offers outreach at school and street programs, with assistance from Youth Health Attorney Tanya Gassenheimer, Staff Attorney Diane O’Connell and Equal Justice Works fellow Alyssa Phillips.
For 11 years, until 2016, CCH youth staff co-led an advocacy group for street youth. Their advocacy included meeting with then-Mayor Richard Daley, which resulted in Chicago starting a homeless youth task force and pilot funding for the Crib, the city’s first overnight youth shelter. Youth leaders remain active through our Youth Committee partners, with leadership by Unity Parenting & Counseling.
No Youth Alone is grateful for long-time project-based support given by the Polk Bros. Foundation.