What cause are you representing and why is it important to highlight?
One night in 1985, a woman named Irene was discharged from a mental health facility with nothing but a pill prescription and a pocket full of vitamins. Homeless and penniless, without any friends or family she could turn to, Irene wandered the streets of Chicago looking for shelter until dawnâ€”when she stepped in front of a train, ending her life.
Now, in 2016, an estimated 16,000 individual adult women like Irene are experiencing homelessness in Chicago*. And itâ€™s not just a problem for mentally ill and disabled women. As the affordable housing crisis continuesâ€”a June article in the Tribune writes that nearly half of Chicagoans canâ€™t afford their rent or mortgageâ€”that number is just going to grow.
I believe that housing should be a human right. Regardless of whether or not you have a friend in the world or a penny to your name, everyone should have the right to a safe, stable place to sleep at night. I believe this should especially be true for those of us who face gender-based inequality every day, with the additional vulnerability our gender identity adds on the street.
*Based on estimates by the Chicago Coalition of the Homeless and the 2015 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.
What new or innovative developments are taking place to either increase awareness or to address the issue itself?
I work for Deborahâ€™s Place, a permanent supportive housing provider in Chicago exclusive to women*. Deborahâ€™s Place is here for women like Irene, after whom we named our first day shelter in 1985. We provide housing and wraparound services for women experiencing homelessness. With a zero-barriers-to-entry approach, Deborahâ€™s Place accepts all adult women who meet basic eligibility requirements: over the age of 18 who are homeless, do not have children in their care, and for some of our programs, have a disability. For many women, Deborahâ€™s Place is a last option after having been turned away from other programs with stricter entry requirements.
And we donâ€™t just provide housing. With extensive case management and three on-site Learning Centers, Deborahâ€™s Place makes sure that women have access to the resources and opportunities they need to achieve their self-defined goals. Whether thatâ€™s moving out to independence, reconnecting with family members, getting an education or another goal, Deborahâ€™s Place meets women where they are to help them achieve it.
*female-assigned and/or female-identified
How can YNPN members and supporters help or get more involved?
Obviously, donating cash so we can keep our doors open. But also check out our in-kind wish listâ€”we are often moving women who have nothing into apartments, so we need lots of supplies.
I would also recommend volunteering with usâ€”get a group and come to one of our Learning Centers. Lead a workshop, bring supplies for a crafting day, or even run a Bingo night!
Is there anything else youâ€™d like us to know about your cause?
Ireneâ€™s story is a tragic one, but not every story here is a tragedyâ€”many are full of hope. Yolandaâ€™s story begins like Ireneâ€™sâ€”she was discharged from a detox facility after over twenty years of homelessness and substance abuse. But then rather than having to face the streets of Chicago alone, she was able to come to Deborahâ€™s Place. Here, Yolanda was given the stability and the space to grow. She attended financial workshops in the Learning Center and learned how to budget, getting her credit under control. Her case manager and volunteers worked with her to get her criminal record expunged so she could get a job downtown. Now sheâ€™s saving up to move out on her own. â€œI was given a second chance,â€ she said, â€œAnd I want to let another young lady get the same opportunity, the same chance I got.â€ Deborahâ€™s Place is here to create chances for women like Yolanda and Ireneâ€”who feel they have noneâ€”because we believe that given the tools and opportunities, every woman will grow.
Sarah Smith is the Grants Manager for Deborah’s Place.
Connect with Sarah