Preventing the Tragedy of LGBT Youth Homelessness

June is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Pride Month.  The web-based Master of Social Work program at the University of Southern California School Of Social Work partnered with Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to create an infographic on “Preventing the Tragedy of LGBT Youth Homelessness.”  

We thought the infographic did a great job of highlighting the unique challenges that homeless LGBT youth face so we decided to post it on our blog:  Continue reading Preventing the Tragedy of LGBT Youth Homelessness

CCH’s 10th Annual Charity Golf Outing

golf, golf cart, glofing, golfers

golf, golf cart, glofing, golfersWe are pleased to announce that the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless will hold its 10th annual charity golf outing in memory of our late executive director, Jack “Juancho” Donahue, on Monday, August 13 at Geneva National Golf Club.

This event raises critical funds for an organization that leads the fight to prevent and end homelessness in our community.

Space and sponsorship opportunities are still available, click HERE for pricing and more information.  You may also call Michael Nameche, director of development, at (312) 641-4140 to reserve your spot.  Continue reading CCH’s 10th Annual Charity Golf Outing

CHA leader agrees to work with CCH on re-entry policies

In a recent meeting with our Re-Entry Committee, Chicago Housing Authority CEO Charles Woodyard agreed to work with CCH to address stringent Housing Choice Voucher policies that restrict people with criminal backgrounds from accessing Section 8 housing.

CHA policies are significantly more restrictive than federal requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This includes a CHA policy that denies an applicant if s/he or any family member has committed a crime within five years of applying. Often, this is determined only by looking at an arrest record.  Continue reading CHA leader agrees to work with CCH on re-entry policies

Kicking off another year of Austin school outreach

Lela Cetoute and Brandon Dunlap

Every Child in School, Every Day, an outreach project based in the Austin neighborhood, kicked off its fourth year of collaboration by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and volunteers from JPMorgan Chase Bank.

“I’ve seen a lot of faces of people here who have come and done outreach with us, sometimes in the rain, and I see the impact they are making,” said Sharlita Davis, a CCH Board member who coordinates the outreach project for Chase.

The Austin outreach project has been a signature project of Chase’s Legal & Compliance Department, where Ms. Davis serves as Assistant Vice President and Contract Officer in the IP & Technology Law Group.

Forty-three Chase employees from a variety of bank departments attended a lunch kickoff Tuesday in the downtown Chase Auditorium – some to learn about the project for the first time, others to resume another year as outreach volunteers.

Made possible by generous grants from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the project reaches out to homeless families and students in Austin, a West Side neighborhood with 27 public schools. Since 2009, CCH staff and volunteers from Chase have done extensive summer outreach in Austin, distributing thousands of door hangers, posters and informational brochures to explain the school options available to homeless children and teens.

In the project’s first three years, the enrollment of homeless students in Austin public schools has almost doubled, from 376 in 2008 to 732 in December 2011, a 94% increase. Last year, 50 Chase employees volunteered to do outreach, 30 of them at least twice. In addition, 55 law students from Loyola, Notre Dame, Northwestern and the University of Iowa helped CCH distribute materials last summer and fall.

Also participating in Tuesday’s event were key staff from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Jennifer Fabbrini, transit coordinator for the Students in Temporary Living Situations office, and Andrea Hall, senior manager for the Office of Family and Community Engagement.

Ms. Hall voiced support for the project and committed to having CPS organizers help distribute the Chase-produced outreach materials in public schools throughout the city.

“Education was my key to success.  No one can take education from you,” said Ms. Hall, speaking of her own experience as a homeless teen. “If I never got an education and people didn’t believe in me, I wouldn’t be here today.”

The event was also an opportunity to recognize outstanding Chase volunteers who have shown consistent support and energy for the project. Among them was Ophelia McGee, a Chase staffer in customer mail services. Ms. McGee has participated in every outreach event since the project began.

From left: Ophelia McGee, Sharlita Davis, Donna Jackson, Mary Ann O’Connor, and Lela Cetoute

“Volunteering with the project is very humbling,” said Ms. McGee.  “Each time, I get more out of it than I put into it. The experience is unbelievable. It is a joy and pleasure to participate.”

The campaign also honored last year’s co-chair, Donna Jackson, and Chase volunteers Lela Cetoute and Angelise French. This winter, Chase Bank honored the project’s coordinator, Sharlita Davis, with its “Good Works Volunteer of the Year” award for the Chicago region.

Every Child in School’s next outreach day, set for Thursday, May 31, will focus on preschool enrollment and access to fee waivers. Smaller outreach days are held throughout the summer, including at Taste of Austin, with a large back-to-school outreach day planned for late August.

“We always feel people here care and care enough to do something about it,” said Laurene Heybach, director of the CCH Law Project.

Volunteer Lela Cetoute also urged her fellow Chase employees to get involved: “Just give of yourself.  Just come. This is our purpose on earth: to help others.”

Chase volunteers also heard from Brandon Dunlap, a formerly homeless CPS student who earned his bachelor’s degree from Kendall College with help from a CCH college scholarship.

–       Article by Claire Lombardo, Chase/Austin outreach intern

–       Photos by J.D. Klippenstein, CCH media 

Chicago Sun-Times: Few options for homeless young people in Chicago

Photo credit: I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

(Working with the HELLO youth group it co-runs with The Night Ministry, CCH advocated for city funding that supports The Crib. The overnight youth shelter first opened in January 2011, and reopened last fall.)

by Neil Steinberg

It’s 9 p.m., and 26 young men and women have shown up at the Crib, a shelter for homeless youth in the Lake View Lutheran Church at Addison and Halsted.

Which is a problem, since there is space for only 20 foam mattresses on the floor of the cinderblock community room where they will sleep.

“Most nights we’re full,” says Nate Metrick, the Crib coordinator. “Especially in winter, we’re pretty much full every night.”

Or in spring when it feels like winter — it’s 42 degrees outside tonight. So staff from the Night Ministry, the nonprofit organization that runs the shelter, along with many other outreach services, feeding and providing for Chicago’s downtrodden, does what they are forced to do most cold nights: turn people away.

“There’s a lot of you here tonight,” announces staffer Hope Benson, after quieting down the commotion. “We start a new intake process today. When I came outside I noticed there was a lot of running. There’s no need to run. Intake is between 8:45 and 9 o’clock. You can be here between that time and we’ll still let you in. Okay? If there’s more than 20 people, then we’re going to do a lottery, like we’re going to do now.”

There is a burst of protest, excited conversation and drama, with nearly everyone speaking at once.

“Yesterday was first come/first serve,” says one. “What happened?” “This is messed up!” says another.

They are black, white, Hispanic, male, female. All under the age of 24. They sit on chairs, stand against walls, slump on the floor, their possessions piled around them.

Darnell, a powerfully built 19-year-old with aqua-painted fingernails, clutches a pink stuffed monkey to his chest. “This is J-Moe,” he says. About 70 percent of the youth who stay at the Crib are gay, lesbian or transgender, and there is a direct connection between homosexuality and homelessness among the young.

“Youth are coming out at a much younger age — 12, 13,” says Paul Hamann, the Night Ministry’s CEO and president. “Youth see society being more accepting and are willing to come out early, but the family might not be ready for that, which sometimes puts their housing in danger. It’s a little paradoxical.”

Nor does anyone have an idea how many homeless youth are in Chicago or in the country. “There are no numbers out there,” Hamann says.

Benson draws slips of paper out of a white plastic bucket and reads off 20 names or nicknames: John. Phillip. Diggie. Romeo. Izzy. Desiree. Darnell. Ryan. Dee. Temper. Knox. Cory. Conrad. Red. Dan. Leo. Homary, Dougie. Adrianne. Cain.”

“Can I say something please?” says Leo, 19, standing up. “M—–f—— who have somewhere to go, who think the Crib is just a hangout spot, get the f— out, because there are people who really need this place. I’m just saying. You all being selfish.”

A common complaint: Other people don’t need it but I do. Also theft.

The six whose names don’t get picked get CTA cards with $2.50 — one fare — on them, and they’re lucky to get that; somebody has to donate the cards to the Crib, which began as a pilot program with the city of Chicago in January 2011, ran for four months, was closed, then re-opened in September. Its future is uncertain.

“We are trying to come up with additional funds to keep it open year-round in a very, very tough funding environment,” says Hamann. (The Crib receives donations at the Night Ministry, 4711 N. Ravenswood, 60640, or at

The fare cards are last-resort housing. “Most homeless people, at night time they sleep on the train,” explains Conrad Burnett, 22, who sometimes does that. “It’s an hour and half, two hours from 95th to Howard, back and forth and back and forth. It’s warm on the train. You get used to it, sitting up sleeping. You gotta hold all your bags. They’ll cut your pants and take what’s in your pockets. They took my shoes one time.”

Though warm, a night on the train isn’t an appealing prospect.

“I have nowhere to go!” complains Tobias, 22, a muscular young man with a slight beard and an earring. Homeless almost a year, he stops at the door to argue, loud and long — they shouldn’t use the lottery, they should keep the old system. “You knew I was here!” he shouts over staffers. “No! No! You’re not listening to what I’m saying! The first 20 who got in are the first 20 who are supposed to stay in!”

“We only have 20 spots,” says Benson, explaining the need for a change. “People push past others. It’s dangerous. People get hurt.”

Getting nowhere, Tobias kicks angrily at the crash bar on the door. It locks behind him and he is standing on Addison Street, holding a bag of pumpkin seeds.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he says.

Joddy, 18, kisses her boyfriend, Dougie, 24, hard, then quietly leaves — he was picked; she wasn’t. She walks a block west, uses her fare card to get into the Addison Street L station, where she stands on the platform, a slight girl in a red-plaid hooded sweatshirt, pressing herself against the wall, looking scared.

“What am I going to do?” she cries, tears rolling down her cheeks. “I don’t know where to go.”

She won’t say why she’s homeless. “That’s confidential to me.”

Nor will she risk riding the L all night. She’s done that before.

“It’s sometimes dangerous, especially if you’re a girl,” she says. “There’s a lot of guys, who’ll just hit on you. It’s dangerous. It’s not easy. You get scared, because it’s late, and you don’t know where to go.”

Joddy grew up in Humboldt Park. “I’m mixed, I’m a lot of races — Native American, Puerto Rican, Irish.” She has been homeless since she was 16 and went to Evanston Township High School. “I couldn’t finish. I had to drop out,” she says.

She insists that she and her boyfriend watch out for each other. “We have each other’s back.” But she couldn’t let him pass up his spot at the Crib to stick with her on the streets. “He can’t — I can’t let him do that,” she says. “He suffers more than I do.”

So what is she going to do?

“I don’t know. Walk down North Avenue. It’s actually a lot safer there than a lot of places…. I tend to walk a lot. Every day. Once I walked almost eight miles.”

She talks about the various North Side youth services and shelters she uses, and how homeless youth are sometimes treated.

“I been in Chicago my whole life, and I’ve been growing up around here, and I’ve grown up to see everything,” she says. “I’m a very observant person. I see everything. I don’t have to say anything. But I see it. And I see how they disrespect everybody. Everybody who doesn’t look rich or doesn’t have class.”

She has ambitions. “I’m a really good artist. I can draw,” she says, hoping to be “an artist maybe, a comic book artist.” But she sees how she and her friends are viewed by many in society.

“Homeless people are human too,” she says. “We got lives, too. Just ’cause you have money in your pocket, just ’cause you have clothes on your back and a job doesn’t mean that you can go ahead and say that a person’s not human. That person has feelings, too. That person went through b—s— too. We went through abuse. We went through all this s—, and you know why? Because it’s people that hurt people. It’s not people who do this to themselves. Especially the young ones, who don’t even deserve this. And that’s coming out from some real experiences of my own. You can’t just say people are not people because they don’t have anything. Nobody has everything in the world. Nobody is perfect.”

The train arrives. “Belmont is next” the canned voice calls. “Doors open on the right at Belmont.” She walks onto the train and is gone.

Grassroots Collaborative questions city’s infrastructure trust

Members of the Grassroots Collaborative, including CCH, spoke out at City Hall Tuesday against the mayor’s proposed Infrastructure Trust. The Collaborative cited inadequate oversight and transparency for a funding plan that will allow $1.7 billion of private investment in city infrastructure.

Seven aldermen proposed alternative ordinances that would have required City Council approval of all Trust-funded projects, and given the city’s inspector general the power to investigate projects. But Mayor Emanuel’s Trust proposal passed without those oversights by a vote of 41-7, six weeks after it was first proposed.

– Photo by Alyssa Copenhaver


CCH sends 135 people to Springfield

Organizers with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless  brought 135 people to Springfield to advocate Wednesday. Making the trip were homeless people from Aurora and Elgin, two Chicago shelters, San Jose Obrero and It Takes a Village, and students from Tilden High School, Loyola University, and Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.

We spoke with more than 20 legislators. We told them that we wanted their support in stopping proposed cuts to funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing, which are facing a cutback of 52%, or $4.7  million in July. We also advocated that homeless prevention grants to families have funding restored, from $1.5 million to $5 million.  Continue reading CCH sends 135 people to Springfield

Ed Shurna for The Huffington Post: Can We Put Our Trust in the Infrastructure Trust

April 17, 2012

By Ed Shurna, Executive Director

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless

The investors in Mayor Emanuel’s proposed Infrastructure Trust will expect a significant return on their investments. The city realizes that in order to provide this return, it will have to charge user fees and not just rely on savings from the infrastructure improvements. This may result in increased fees for summer programs, fees for use of the parks, fees for library use, fees for garbage collection, fees for free concerts in the park.

In the past the city issued bonds to finance infrastructure improvements. Not any more with the new Infrastructure Trust. The Infrastructure Trust may have some merit. It may be a good tool for helping fix needed repairs. The city council should take time to evaluate the trust and build in necessary safeguards.

The city council should practice due diligence in evaluating the pros and cons of this trust. Who will decide if the trust takes on a particular project? Does the city council make that decision or does a five-member trust board decide? How transparent is the decision-making process? Can the city charge fees for everything from parks to toilets to garbage pick up?

There are too many unanswered questions. Let’s make sure this is not another parking meter scandal. Let’s take the time to put in the necessary safeguards.

Chicago Talks: Cook County Court and Judge Help Rehabilitate Prostitutes

By Jack Reese

Associate Judge Rosemary Higgins on Monday discussed a Cook County court program that helps convicted prostitutes into treatment instead of sending them to jail.

Photo Credit: Kay Chernush of the U.S. State Department

Higgins, 58, said WINGS (Women in Need of Gender Specific Services) court was looking for money from the county, state and federal governments to support the program. The program operates with the help of volunteers and non-profit organizations.

The court was launched in January 2011 with support from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, the Chicago Dream Center and other organizations. It is one of only two courts in the nation that serves women convicted of felony prostitution. Also, the program in Cook County is the largest in the nation.

“This is the most interesting thing I do,” Higgins said. “It’s the most important work I’ve done as a judge.”

Higgins has been an associate judge at the Cook County courthouse since 2003. She grew up in the South Side of Chicago and dreamed of being a lawyer. After a masters degree in criminal justice financed by scholarships and law school, she became a felony prosecutor. In 1998 and 2000 she ran to become a judge after 16 years in the state’s attorney’s office.

Higgins said she didn’t always want to work with prostitutes; the rehab program fell into her lap.

“They’re the most stigmatized and marginalized of all groups,” she said. “I didn’t want the work. I was more interested in murders and rapes.”

But Higgins said she has developed sympathy for the prostitutes who stand before her. “Nobody cares about them,” she said. “They’re disposable. We’re raising the level of awareness.”

Others involved in the program are hoping for more understanding as well.

Daria Mueller of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless helps provide services to the women.

Mueller said the women in WINGS “have a chance to transform their lives, and are getting treated with respect and dignity, as people of worth. It’s a new approach in criminal justice that is more rehabilitative than punitive.”

Mueller also said, “The judge, public defenders, probation officers, state’s attorneys, jail personnel, case managers and advocates all have input, and everyone is trying to help the women achieve success. We are trying to work together to give women access to all the tools and resources necessary.”

Mueller added that the women are achieving their goals and making progress, getting housing, taking care of their children, dealing with addictions and staying sober, increasing their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Higgins said the number of women being charged with prostitution is on the rise because they are working in more recently gentrified upscale neighborhoods.

Prostitution charges vary. For women younger than 18, prostitution has been decriminalized.

Sentencing ranges from one to three years for those older than 18. A first offense draws a misdemeanor charge, which lands a woman in jail for three days before she can go back to the streets.

Defendants who choose to enter the rehab program can go to the Chicago Dream Center, a Humboldt Park residence operated by 29 Christian organizations, or the Haymarket Center, the largest treatment center for substance abuse in Chicago.

But some prostitutes are not always sure of what they want. Higgins said some younger women are still connected to their pimps, whom they call their “fiancés,” and they are not ready to leave their lives on the streets. As they age, however, they look toward a life after prostitution.

“One prostitute told me, ‘I don’t want to die on the streets, and I know that’s where I’m headed,’” Higgins said. She encourages older prostitutes to serve as mentors for the younger women who enter rehab programs.

As many as 50 percent of all prostitutes suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition resulting from abuse and life on the streets, Higgins said. The PTSD they suffer is often worse than combat veterans who have served two tours of duty in war zones, and they often struggle with drug and alcohol dependence and depression, Higgins said.

Bianca Campbell, a convicted prostitute, stood before Higgins on Monday, when she entered a guilty plea to one charge of felony prostitution. She was sentenced to two years of probation, which will require counseling, treatment for drugs and alcoholism and work toward her high school diploma.

Higgins ordered Campbell to move into the Dream Center.

“I’m grateful,” Campbell said. “I’m here to do what I want to do, not what I have to do.”

Campbell said she has a child and is ready to put her past life behind her. She said she has struggled with “issues with marijuana and other stuff.”

Higgins has talked to officials in other states that have court programs designed to help women in the sex trade. She has arranged for Ph.D. interns from the Chicago School for Forensic Psychology to give counseling to the women.

Some women who successfully complete the rehab program can have the felony prostitution charge expunged from their records, Higgins said.

Mueller said she is always looking for ways to improve the program. “We find gaps with services for those with more severe mental health issues or with severe cognitive disabilities,” she said. “We are always in need of more residential programs for substance abuse treatment, recovery homes and supportive housing programs.”

She said the women also need help with vocational training, job placement, trauma services and mentorship.

CCH welcomes organizing interns from Hungary

This April CCH is privileged to host two community organizing interns from Budapest, Hungary. Bernadett Sebály (left) and Judit Szollár (right) are visiting through Great Lakes Consortium’s Teach Democracy Exchange Program. In return, CCH Senior Organizer Wayne Richard will travel to Eastern Europe next winter. Among their Illinois experiences, Betti and Judit met with Gov. Pat Quinn, and they will join CCH in Springfield next Wednesday to advocate with legislators. We asked the young organizers to write about their work.  Continue reading CCH welcomes organizing interns from Hungary