CHICAGO — A coalition of foundations and advocates has come together to address the issue of storage of personal belongings for youth experiencing homelessness in the Chicago area. Lara Brooks, a longtime advocate for youth, has been hired as a consultant to investigate ways to provide storage at existing facilities, as well as to explore options for increasing overall storage capacity in the region.
The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative is being supported with the leadership of The Pierce Family Foundation and Polk Bros Foundation, and participation of other foundations including The Knight Foundation. The project will be coordinated by Publisher Tracy Baim of Windy City Times, which hosted the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Summit earlier this year. At that summit, which was attended by more than 300 service providers and advocates, including 100 youth, the problems of storage were stressed by youth attendees.
“The Pierce Foundation wanted to tackle this because many youth advocates had expressed interest in coming together to discuss solutions to some of the issues raised by the film The Homestretch, and also by the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Summit,” said Marianne Philbin, Pierce Family Foundation Executive Director. “The Pierce Foundation likes to move quickly, and is often able to step up and make investments at the front end of new projects. This effort is something we believe can generate results that matter, within a relatively short period of time.”
“People who don’t have a stable place to live often don’t have anyplace to store their belongings, which leaves them open to loss or theft of documents, medications, clothing, books and other personal items,” said Debbie Reznick, Senior Program Officer with Polk Bros Foundation. “Storage will not only help practically, but will be used as an opportunity to engage youth who are not currently accessing services.”
How do you get to school or job interviews in clean clothes, manage medicines, books, paperwork or daily needs, when you have nowhere to keep your things? San Diego recently opened its Transitional Storage Center; Seattle, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis have storage programs underway, and this committee thought similar models might be workable in Chicago.
Far from being a trivial issue, homeless youth have identified solving the storage problem as one of the most important ways to alleviate day-to-day suffering and improve the immediate quality of life for individuals in unpredictable and temporary living situations. People making use of storage centers in other cities have noted that the availability of storage frees them from one level of worry and stress, and on a very practical level, enables them to make it to appointments, go to class or seek employment, relieved of the burden of carrying their possessions with them.
Consultant Lara Brooks has been working with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago since 2004. Brooks worked at the Broadway Youth Center from 2005 to 2013 in direct service and leadership roles. Currently, Brooks is a consultant and works with youth programs, drop-in centers, and youth housing programs across the city. Brooks’ current clients include All Chicago – Making Homelessness History, University of Chicago’s Care2Prevent Pediatric and Adolescent HIV Program, Chicago Department of Family & Support Services, and Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health.
“Young people told us at the LGBTQ Homeless Youth Summit that addressing storage issues was a huge need in Chicago,” Brooks said. “During the next six months, we will identify creative solutions through strategic partnerships, youth-driven program design, and capacity-building efforts with the goal of significantly increasing storage access in 2015. Storage is a surprisingly complex issue to address and is critically important to the health and well-being of young people experiencing homelessness. Storage is especially critical for LGBTQ youth who are disproportionately affected by homelessness and even more so for transgender and gender non-conforming youth who deserve gender affirming access points to basic needs services.”
The youth storage project will address issues impacting all youth, even though the impetus came from the LGBTQ youth summit. “These youth deserve accessible storage options to prevent loss or theft of legal documentation, school books, and clothing that is a stepping stone to educational and employment goals. They need a place to keep items of sentimental value—such as pictures of loved ones, diplomas, and letters from family members,” said Brooks.
Heather Parish, program director with the Pierce Foundation, Flora Koppel, executive director of Unity Parenting, and community volunteer Michael Mock of Lincoln Financial Advisors will also serve on the committee.