The Chicago Bureau: With homelessness on rise, housing program addresses student need

By Anthony Settipani for The Youth Project

Homelessness is on the rise across Chicago, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), which found not only increasing numbers of homeless adults and families, but also growing numbers of youth and unaccompanied minors.

According to an August 2014 analysis for the 2013-2014 school year, CCH estimated a 19.4 percent increase in the number of homeless people in Chicago since the year before. Their estimated figure increased from 116,042 to 138,575.

This total includes the growing number of homeless students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, which was (counted) at 22,144 during the 2014 fiscal year, and is up from 18,669 in 2012-2013.

CPS defines student homelessness as any one of a half-dozen criteria to include the following: “Living in a shelter, motel, or hotel,” “doubled up at someone else’s home,” but also “children staying with grandparents or others who are not the legal guardian.”

Youth homelessness is a  stubborn problem, and with numbers apparently on the rise, La Casa Student Housing hopes to fill a great need.
Youth homelessness is a persistent problem. With numbers apparently
on the rise, La Casa  student housing hopes to fill a great need.

Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte, a Humboldt Park-based outreach and resource center for the homeless, said she believes there are more Chicagoans threatened with homelessness than ever before despite city and national efforts to cut into the homeless population. Her organization recently partnered with The Resurrection Project and La Casa student housing to give dormitory-style housing for Chicago students struggling to find a place to live on or near their college campus.

Maria Bucio, director of La Casa, said that cost is one of the most prohibitive factors for students looking to experience on-campus college life. La Casa can house students for close to half of what they would be paying on most college campuses in the area, which ranges anywhere from $6000 per year to just over $3000.

“They have students who are going to college,” she said, referring to La Casa Norte. “And we have beds.”

The two-building facility is more than just a place to sleep. It also offers study rooms and a support staff to assist students with navigating their college careers.
La Casa was founded in August 2012, and its facility has been to house 100 students.

This school year it housed 94, 10 of whom graduated this year.

“It’s pretty modern,” said Aaron Davis, who spent the last year living at La Casa after being referred there by a guidance counselor. “There’s a double security door, and it needs a key card so not just anyone can walk in.”

Davis, 21, recently finished his first year in City Colleges of Chicago. He said he found the organization’s mindset even more helpful than its facilities.

“I was in a homeless program, and my mind wasn’t on education,” he said. “It was on safety and security.” He said all that changed when he got to La Casa.

“Now you’re in a place where you can be more education-focused. It’s very refreshing,” Davis said.

The pilot program sends six youths from La Casa Norte to live in the dormitory as they pursue their studies. In order to remain eligible for housing, they must maintain a minimum 2.0 G.P.A., and acquire an internship within two years of living in the facilities.

Bucio said she believes the urban setting contributes strongly to the students’ success.

“It’s this idea that they feel like they’re part of the neighborhood, but also a secure, dormitory environment,” she said. “La Casa is a labor of love for many of us.”