National Hunger & Homeless Week: Once a teen with no home

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

By Diane O’Connell, CCH Legal Intern

As a teenager who left home at age 16, I spent several years in unstable living situations, on and off of the street. Looking back on the nights when I had no place to stay, there are two things that stick out to me about what it meant to be homeless: not having a place to live, and not having a home. Not having a place to live was hard. It meant that there were nights when I was willing to go home with men I didn’t know in order not to be on the street. It meant not having a place to shower, the embarrassment of being kicked out of public spaces, and the fear of being harmed while sleeping, or being picked up by the police. Diane O'Connell

But worse than being outside was not having a home — the deep loneliness that came with not belonging anywhere. Maybe even more than a bed to sleep in, human beings, and especially young people, need to have structure and stability. They need the satisfaction and safety of a place to go at the end of the day, of the warmth and comfort of a family or a pet or a pillow. Without basic shelter and security, it’s almost impossible to be productive or successful.  It’s because having a home is essential to the well-being of all people that I believe housing is a human right.

The clients I have worked with on the street through CCH face the trouble not just of living outside, but of what it means to homeless. While many have figured out how to survive without constant shelter, they are stigmatized, unemployed, criminalized, outcast, and dehumanized by a society that would prefer to act as though they do not exist. CCH takes up the cause of these and all homeless people by fighting a battle that is not just about housing, but about poverty. By confronting poverty at the levels through community organizing, law, and public policy, CCH seeks to not just to provide housing, but to promote and protect human rights, and to make our country safer and more equal.

Diane O’Connell interns with the Law Project through a partnership between John Marshall Law School and the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund. During law school, Diane has worked for John Marshall’s veterans clinic, as an immigration intern at Latinos Progresando, and as a clerk for the Cook County Public Defender and First Defense Legal Aid.