Health outcomes, safety, the ability to access needed services, and social well-being are all influenced by the inability to safely store belongings, according to the final report of the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative for youth experiencing homelessness in the Chicago area. The report was released May 19 to Chicago-area youth agencies and funders.
The needs assessment and recommendations were written by research leader Lara Brooks with youth advocates Ka’Riel Gaiter, Gregory Slater and Daphnie Williams.
The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative is supported with the leadership of The Pierce Family Foundation and Polk Bros Foundation, and participation of other foundations including The Knight Family Foundation. The project was coordinated by Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times.
Currently, storage access for individuals and families experiencing homelessness is extremely limited in Chicago. In the U.S., no models of community-coordinated or citywide efforts exist to support young people around storage of personal belongings. Looking to adult storage models in Vancouver, San Diego, Los Angeles, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and New York, many models were explored for feasibility. Chicago would be the first U.S. city to coordinate such an effort for young people.
— Familial support sometimes extends to storage of belongings but not housing.
— Many young people trust at least one youth worker with their belongings and documents.
— Violence prevention and preventing the loss or theft of personal belongings are connected.
— Storage programs youth can trust is of utmost importance.
— It can be unsafe for young people to carry their belongings with them.
— Constant worry impacts mental health, productivity, and goal completion.
— Lack of storage means taking steps back, even when youth are trying to move forward.
— Loss of belongings is a setback with ripple effects.
— Emerging, “mini” youth networks exist geographically across Chicago and present new opportunities for service coordination.
Recommended Actions Include:
— Satellite storage program in close proximity to a youth drop-in center.
— Storage program within or in close proximity to a high school or several high schools with large numbers of unaccompanied students experiencing homelessness.
— Web-based documentation project, possibly through a partnership with Google, piloted within an organization with existing case management services and experience engaging young people experiencing homelessness.
— Dedicated storage program located or in close proximity to Chicago’s Loop with clearly defined, capacity-informed service offerings.
— Program similar to the Commuter Student Resource Center (CSRC) at the University of Illinois- Chicago in other post-secondary institutions, such as City Colleges of Chicago.
“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?” asked Brooks. “This study gives a path forward for the city of Chicago to be a true innovator on services to these youth.”
“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,” said Marianne Philbin, Pierce Family Foundation Executive Director. “We are excited about the findings of this report and look forward to working with other foundations in helping address this issue.”
“People who don’t have a stable place to live often don’t have any place 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.”
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.
The youth storage project addressed issues impacting all youth, even though the impetus came from the LGBTQ Youth Summit hosted by Windy City Times in 2014.
Heather Parish, program director with the Pierce Foundation, Flora Koppel, executive director of Unity Parenting, and community volunteer Michael Mock of Lincoln Financial Advisors also served on the advisory committee with Baim, Philbin and Reznick.
The full report is available here: Chicago Youth Storage Initiative.