National Hunger & Homeless Week: When homeless feels safer than home

During National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, CCH offers these essays by interns, staff and volunteers, writing about what inspires their work.

By Danielle Gibbins, Public Policy Intern

I chose to become a policy intern at CCH because of an interaction with a former client and my strong political beliefs about education.

A year ago, I worked in case management services at a psychiatric hospital. A client asked to speak with me. I felt surprised, because he rarely said a word on the unit. The client told me how he left home as a youth because his mom beat him. His dad raped him. A brother sexually abused him. Being homeless felt safer to my client than staying home. 

Now a young man, the client had been in and out of protective services, running away and selling sex to survive. My client, who’s bi-racial, said whites had been “devils” to him, including his father. The client told me that he decided to talk to me, even though I am white, because he said I was kind and my lips reminded him of some black women with red lipstick whom he met on the street – he said they were the only people who had ever been nice to him. Surviving violence shaped my client’s world perspective. Sadly, school was never a consideration for him while growing up.

Danielle Gibbins
Danielle Gibbins

After hearing the life stories of this client and other homeless youth, it’s shown me the importance of getting an education. The number of homeless youth in Illinois increased 93% over the past four years, while schools in Illinois identified 51,638 homeless students last school year.

As a policy intern, I help CCH advocate for Illinois to restore $3 million for school grants to serve homeless children and youth. These funds can impact the self-sufficiency of today’s homeless youth. I want to advocate for the resilient and bright youth who told me their experiences with homelessness.

Danielle Gibbins is a policy intern at CCH and a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration. Her field of study focuses on issues of poverty and inequality. An Elmhurst native, Danielle earned a bachelor’s degree in history and art history at Vassar College in New York.