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No Youth Alone

HELLO youth group video (2012)

Unaccompanied youth, living without a family or guardian, face day-to-day challenges that often 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 44 youth providers – 25 in Chicago, six from the suburbs and 13 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.

HELLO youth group meets with then-Mayor Daley

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 takes effect October 1. Bringing Illinois in line with 17 other states, the amendment will allow minors, ages 14 to 18, to consent to their own care, when previously they had to be turned away even from school-based clinics because 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.

Youth attorney Beth Cunningham runs a mobile legal aid clinic that offers outreach at school and street programs. She and Policy Specialist Jennifer Cushman lead a twice monthly group for street youth that’s met since 2005 in the Lakeview neighborhood (now at 5 p.m. Tuesdays at Wellington UCC Church, 615 W. Wellington). Advocacy by the HELLO group includes a 2010 meeting with then-Mayor Richard Daley: Their discussions led to creation of Chicago’s homeless youth task force, and pilot funding for the city’s first seasonal overnight youth shelter, The Crib.

No Youth Alone is grateful for the long-time project support given by the Polk Bros. Foundation. The Youth Futures clinic is supported by the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund and Advancing Justice, an initiative of The Chicago Bar Foundation.