Homelessness in DuPage in the spotlight
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com October 4, 2012 4:58PM
Who are they?
Number of homeless people age 24 and younger in Illinois.
Portion who are female.
Homeless youth in Chicago and the surrounding counties.
Proportion that have had at least one child.
Proportion that struggle with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance abuse).
Portion of all homicide victims who are between 18 and 24 years old.
Segment of the homeless youth population who are HIV-positive.
Portion of homeless youth who drop out of school.
Source: 360 Youth Services
Updated: November 8, 2012 6:16AM
The average homeless person in DuPage County is only 9 years old.
That was among the more sobering facts brought up as an assortment of area social service providers came out for the third annual New Face of Homelessness symposium Wednesday morning at College of DuPage. What they heard is that as the economic recovery grinds slowly on, local agencies are seeing little relief in the demand for shelter and the basic human needs associated with it.
That stark reality is a significant departure from what Mark Milligan saw, or thought he saw, more than a quarter-century ago as a neophyte volunteer at one of the overnight sites run by DuPage Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS). Milligan was pitching in with some fellow parishioners from his Glen Ellyn congregation.
“I didn’t realize there were homeless families in DuPage County,” said Milligan, who went on to cofound Bridge Communities, the nonprofit that provides temporary housing for homeless families as they regain the ability to support themselves.
It was stunning to learn so many of the local street dwellers were so young.
“We were probably the wealthiest county in the upper Midwest, and yet we had children sleeping on the floor of a church basement,” Milligan said.
In a “moment of clarity” that soon would follow, he realized that while it might be impossible to help everyone in need, he could start by helping one family.
Working with a friend, he rented an apartment and gave it to a struggling family, allowing them to stay for 90 days.
“I have to tell you, it was not well received,” Milligan said. “There were many, many people in the county who discouraged us from doing this.”
Today the agency uses the help of some 400 volunteers and looks after about 100 families, allowing each one to remain in transitional apartment housing for about two years. Services provided during the period include tutoring, homework help, money management and job search assistance, supported by a robust base of volunteer mentors.
Karen Stewart, the program director at Bridge, said some clients have been staying with relatives until the arrangement can no longer be sustained. Others have lost their jobs and exhausted what savings they had. And some are being crushed by the weight of enormous debt.
“We’re seeing families with many different faces,” she said.
Debbie Carr is still seeing plenty of youthful faces. The director of residential services for 360 Youth Services in Naperville runs four programs for homeless people age 13 to 24.
In the middle of 2011, the nonprofit lost much of its funding and the leases were not renewed on many of the apartments the agency was providing for its 18- to 21-year-old homeless clients. The local market had tightened, with many owners converting their units to condominiums and putting them up for sale. Replacement housing finally was found in Naperville and Lisle, and 360 persuaded the people at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provide its support, to extend the maximum age for its service population in light of the protracted economic downtown.
“We called HUD and said, ‘You know what? Twenty-four is the new 18,’” Carr said. “We’ve not been able to do that with all of our programs.”
Intervention is especially crucial when homeless people are poised to join the adult world. Carr said the young people her programs serve are often unaccustomed to a stable home life.
Many, she said, are at higher risk than their peers for sexual assault and other violence, mental illness and substance abuse. They need help with basic things: food, clothing, jobs, health care and education — and a safe place to live.
The assistance is wide-ranging, but it’s also cost-effective, she said. The taxpayer-funded yearly expense of keeping a youth in foster care, inpatient treatment or juvenile detention ranges from $27,000 to $55,000, Carr said, while providing transitional housing runs about $12,500.
“You do the math,” she said.