A shortage of shelter beds makes winter a difficult time for Lakeview’s homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) youth, and a new shelter will soon be opening to help the situation.
Megan Groves, The Night Ministry’s communications coordinator, said the shelter will be open from January through April and is being funded by a grant from the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.
Groves said the overnight shelter will serve dinner when it opens at 9 p.m. She said breakfast will be served in the morning and bag lunches will be provided. Youth must leave in the morning, but Groves said there’s no limit on the number of nights a youth can stay.
The Night Ministry lists the number of homeless youths in the city of Chicago at 10,000, but measuring the exact number is difficult, said Sarah Sumadi, director of communications at the Center on Halsted. She said if someone is sleeping under the CTA, that’s homeless, but if they have friends letting them crash on their couch, it’s a different situation.
“We usually call them at-risk of becoming homeless. They may not consider themselves homeless. There’s definitely a stigma around that,” said Sumadi.
Jennifer Ritter, executive director of nonprofit advocacy group Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC), said the shelter is for 18- to 24-year-olds. She said it’s the first time the city is opening a youth shelter specifically for that age group.
“It’s very exciting,” said Ritter.
Beth Cunningham, a staff attorney at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said the Coalition, The Night Ministry and LAC introduced homeless youth to Mayor Daley last January at an art show and asked him for help. The mayor then had other city officials develop a plan to create additional shelter beds.
Current housing options for homeless youth in Lakeview are limited and dangerous. Ritter said many of them “couch-surf” at their friends’ houses. Ritter said kids will also go to the police station, where a van will pick them up and take them to Pacific Garden Mission, a West Side homeless shelter located at 1458 S. Canal St.
“It is a brutal place,” said Ritter.
Ritter said robberies occur at Pacific Garden Mission and it’s hard for youths to keep their bodies safe. She said kids get sent there just because there’s space.
Sumadi said living situations intensify over the winter.
“My inkling, and I don’t know there are statistics to support this, is that sex work goes up because the situation is really dire. Anything they can do to get a roof over their heads, they’ll do,” said Sumadi.
Sumadi said the Center, located at 3656 N. Halsted St., doesn’t have beds but does have a breakfast club Monday-Thursday, from 8 to 11 a.m. Sumadi said hot meals are provided and a case manager helps the kids get medical services.
Homeless youth in Lakeview also go to the Dunkin’ Donuts at 3200 N. Clark St. to escape the cold. Store manager Carla Vasconez said the owner doesn’t want homeless youth in the store, but she lets them stay 15 minutes when it gets cold outside. Vasconez said she lets them stay longer if they buy something and don’t disturb other customers. She said some youths start fights in the Dunkin ‘N Donuts, and chairs have been thrown.
“I don’t know what they’re on,” said Vasconez.
Vasconez said police have been called a few times, and they want her to fill out restraining orders against the chair throwers.
“I don’t have time to do that,” she said.