Shining a Light on Youth Homelessness

4 Jun

“Listen as your day unfolds
Challenge what the future holds
Try and keep your head up to the sky”
~“You Gotta Be” by Des’ree

(http://www.chicagononprofit.org/public/images/events/agency_crop1.jpg)

Right now Group Z, my Team Service Project, is in the heart of implementing our storytelling project. Our goal is to raise awareness about the realities surrounding youth homelessness through the power of storytelling. We are working closely with Alternatives, Inc, a creative arts programming and counseling organization for youth. We have managed to make great connections with a few organizations for Alternatives: La Casa Norte, Back on My Feet, Broadway Youth Center, and H.E.L.L.O. (Homeless Experts Living Life’s Obstacles, a group formed in connection with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Night Ministry.) To count, we have obtained between 15-20 stories from homeless youth and adults as well as from staff members of organizations across the city.

This project has been quite an eye opening experience. I have learned that each individual takes their homeless experience differently. Some feel overwhelming shame while others embrace their life experiences and use them to help mentor other homeless youth. One staff member from H.E.L.L.O. talked about some of her experiences being homeless in the 80’s. One story she shared was about how her co-workers had no idea that she was homeless but when they did find out, there were mixed reactions. The first group of co-workers completely distanced themselves from her despite how close she thought they were while a second group of co-workers embraced her whole-heartedly and were curious about her experiences. I cannot begin to imagine what that must have felt like but she seemed to take it all in stride.

Two amazing stories I heard were from Shaq and Robert. They do not know one another but both have been empowered through their experiences. Shaq is a musician who wants to be a voice for his community. He is currently residing in temporary housing in Chicago’s northwest side. He openly stated in his interview that he appreciated his experiences from being homeless over the past eight years. He learned to care for himself and felt as though he had matured greatly over that time. Today, he is focusing on job development with Jobs For Youth and music producing/creation.

Robert is located in a different part of the city. He is a youth leader for other youth who are homeless. Robert views those he works closely with as his family. In his interview, he referred to one of his mentees as his daughter. Like Shaq, Robert took his homeless experiences in a positive light. He finds great support from other youth who are homeless and wants to give back to his community by someday working with one of Chicago’s homeless youth organizations.

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