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Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 12:18:37 PM CST

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Vanessa Beene/MEDILL

 Panelists gathered to discuss the state of at-risk youth in Chicago on Wednesday.

Organizations should collaborate to combat youth homelessness

by Vanessa Beene
Apr 30, 2014

Nonprofits should remain proactive in efforts to identify the homeless as federal initiatives on the problem are slated to shift focus in 2015.

Representatives from various organizations gathered Wednesday at The Metropolitan Club to discuss the state of at-risk children in Chicago. As Chicago Public Schools identified a record 18,669 homeless students in 2012-2013, a major topic of discussion was homeless youth.


“As we are approaching 2015, we need some baseline information to help us refocus our attention to deal with the issues of youth homelessness,” said featured speaker Ray E. Willis, community planning director for the regional office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


Willis’ office is in charge of implementing the federal initiative, “Opening Doors” at the local level. Opening Doors is a 10-year federal plan to eradicate homelessness for veterans, families, youth and children by the year 2020 through funding allocations and “set a path to ending all types of homelessness.” The first five years (2010-2015) are designed to specifically deal with veterans and chronic homelessness.


Willis encouraged a more evidence-based set of practices as the department re-focuses for 2015.


“We need to know from you...what is working and what isn’t,” Willis said.


Willis cited “Emerge,” a program that provides homeless young adults with transitional housing and other comprehensive services such as counseling, financial literacy, and job readiness supports as one of the many programs that work.


Emerge is operated through ChildServ, a nonprofit organization headquartered near O’Hare Airport, designed to assist at-risk children and their families in the Chicago area. Their goal is to help homeless young adults develop self-sufficiency.


However, some programs aren’t as successful and Willis cites the lack of credentialed staff as the source of the problem.


“We have a lot of funded programs out there with staff that do not know who their clients are,” Willis said. He added that at-risk youth are not only homeless, but also suffer from a myriad of other mental and behavioral setbacks and that service models must be restructured to accommodate them all.

“Employment and homelessness are intricately linked and services provided at the local and regional level must tend to both,” said one attendee of the event.