Listening at Tilden, a Chicago high school where 45% of students are homeless

By Lucy Schoyer, Speakers Bureau intern

This month I did my first two listening sessions at Tilden High School, located on the South Side at 4747 S. Union. I’m not from Chicago, so this was my first time in a Chicago Public high school. When we walked in, I noticed all the posters encouraging attendance and all of the staff members in blue polo shirts making sure students were where they were supposed to be.

When we got to the classroom we began the session talking about issues, root causes and solutions. One of our staff members, organizer J.D. Klippenstein, explained it is like having a cold – the issue was the runny nose and cough, but the root cause is due to germs. We pushed desks together and got into small groups.  Soon the students thought of issues in their own communities. 

In the group I worked with, students were concerned about eviction, homelessness, and trusting their government. As we talked about homelessness, Dominique Hunter said, “I didn’t know there were any homeless people at Tilden.” She was surprised that 45% of Tilden’s 430 students are identified as homeless. Tilden has one of the highest rates of homelessness among CPS schools. Citywide, a record 18,669 homeless students were identified last school year, about 4% of total CPS enrollment.

At the next session, we talked about what it would be like to be a homeless student and what it would be like to be doubled-up in someone else’s home.

“I would definitely be frustrated, and there would be less privacy,” said Angel Vargas.

“I wouldn’t feel right, it would be awkward. Two families in one (place), that’s a lot. I’d be angry,” added Tony Coleman, another student.

We also talked about the challenges experienced by unaccompanied youth – teens who are homeless and living without a parent or guardian. Tony said it would be hard “thinking about other things when you have to be in school… I would be embarrassed if I didn’t have stable housing.”

“It would be hard to get food and showers,” added Eduardo Ramirez.

Students also discussed how to talk about the issue with a decision-maker. Eduardo said he would emphasize that “people need help.” Angel said he would make clear that being homeless “affects a student’s education… We need to look into the budget” to fund programs for homeless students.