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Top 3 Things I Learned Working with Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

By Ardel Christian, CCPRD Housing Case Manager

light skinned women of color wearing white shirt smiling inside of a apartment building

Being a housing case manager is not a hard job, it is a heart job. Thus far, working with youth experiencing homelessness has had lots of ups and downs. But nonetheless, there are many victories for the youth we serve, along with hope for a better future. In my role, I worked with homeless youth between the ages of 18-24 in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. While working on my caseload, I have learned so many things about youth experiencing homelessness. I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, but success couldn't be closer for those that are a part of housing programs all across the United States. Amongst many things, here are three things I learned while working with youth experiencing homelessness.

One of the first things I learned is that stable housing provides the highest opportunity for growth. When you plant a seed, you can’t keep uprooting it from the ground and expect it to grow. Likewise, that same concept applies to the youth. Providing stable housing is the solid ground our youth need in order to grow. Once you meet a young person's immediate need, then you can focus on the other areas that need attention. Society can’t expect young people to be at their best when they don't know where they will lay their heads at night, or where their next meal will come from.

On the other hand, I have also learned that youth experiencing homelessness equally need both housing stability as well as environmental stability. What does this mean? Most times, when someone uses the phrase “homeless youth” we automatically assume that it's just as simple as that young person doesn't have a place to live. Usually, youth actually have places to live. However, they are living in toxic environments, abusive and unhealthy situations. You’d be surprised at the things our youth endure and just become numb to because they felt like there was no escape. Considering this, it's important that people looking from the outside-in to understand that many homeless youth may not be escaping poverty, but rather abusive situations. Once taken out of those environments, the mental healing that happens from being in a safe place is almost astounding.

Lastly, I have learned that when youth experiencing homelessness have access to housing and a safe environment, the sky's the limit. Many people start life off with obstacles, setbacks, or structural disadvantages, but when someone is finally placed on an egalitarian playing field, belief in oneself comes alive again. With the right support, youth can graduate from trade schools or college, have healthy relationships, and have stability with housing, and more. What facilitates this? They had both the material resources (such as housing, food, employment, health services) as well as the social-emotional support (such as meaningful and supportive relationships) to turn their dreams into reality. Through this, youth have the chance to break the cycle of just existing that has poisoned generations before them. They have a chance to start a new trend. They have a chance to live and not just survive.

Youth experiencing homelessness are just as capable as their counterparts, however, the difference is often that the latter have inherited a lot of privileges at birth and throughout their adolescence. The issue here is the lack of sufficient community resources in homelessness prevention, intervention, and recovery through an intersectional lens, of course. It is evident that when given adequate resources, youth and youth adults can experience exponential growth that rewrites their personal narratives.

Experiencing homelessness or looking for resources? Call Shelter Inc.'s 24-Hour Referral Line at 847-255-8060.

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