Teens living in transitional housing adjust to COVID-19 pandemic

By Courtney Alexander, Staff Reporter

With nowhere to hang out or get a job because of the pandemic, homeless young adults in Chicago face even steeper odds than usual–and that has made public schools and transitional housing even more important in the fragile fabric of their lives.

People within the city of Chicago have been affected by the pandemic, and the young adults in temporary housing for the homeless, which is also known as, transitional housing, are adjusting to new restrictions with their living arrangements, as well as limited opportunities within the community. 

Doug Mowery, the director of residential programming at Ignite in Chicago, said Ignite offers various programs for young adults facing homelessness, including those affected by the coronavirus pandemic. 


“We have several different programs that serve the youth. We have our main program which is called Belfort house; it’s our transitional living home for youth,” Mowery said. “This is where our young people can live for 18 months up to a year and a half, and they work with their case managers while they’re here,”

Young adults in the program frequently experience boredom due to their regular hangout spots closing as a result of the pandemic. They would typically go to a restaurant or just hang out around the community. 

“I can mainly speak on the youth here at Belfort house. Due to Covid, they’ve been restricted with how they’ll be able to move within our house,” Mowery said. “We’re asking them to maintain in their rooms mostly, and only come out into the common spaces to eat, meet with their case managers, or participate in other programming that we have going on,” 

The youth have also encountered difficulties with finding employment during this pandemic, as employment opportunities have declined. 

I think the increasing issue for our youth has been with employment. And those things tend to go hand in hand, you have some youth that are now experiencing homelessness now because they lost a job and they weren’t able to pay rent and were evicted,” Mowery said. 

In Chicago, approximately 76,998 people are homeless, and 16,580 of those individuals are unaccompanied homeless youth, that range from the ages of 14 through 24, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. 

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) reported serving 16,451 homeless students during the 2018-19 school year. This was 8%, or 1,443 students, fewer than the prior school year, but total CPS enrollment also dropped. The share of homeless students enrolled in CPS remains largely the same, at 4.5% of total enrollment, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless said on their website.


(See more:Chicago Homeless Study)

Ignite also helps the youth find additional resources like, counseling, education, and employment opportunities, including internships. 

Donations to Ignite are accepted from the community, with the holidays approaching, these donations provide additional support for the youth. Monetary donations, gifts for the youth, clothing and shoes would help make a difference. 

We have a program called level up, that helps place the youth into an internship for 4 to 6 weeks within the community, to gain some job skills,” Mowery said. “They offer participating classes where they can learn resume building, basic communication skills for their employers, and other employment related skills,”

Ignite offers other programs that provide assistance to adults who are within the city limits of Chicago. Clustered Scattered Site Apartments, or CaSSA, and Next Gen are housing programs that assist adults ages 18 to 26. 

Another transitional housing organization in Chicago, La Casa Norte, provides additional resources to the youth that are experiencing homelessnes. 

Jose M. Muñoz, the executive director of La Casa Norte, said that due to the coronavirus pandemic, the city of Chicago had to scale back on the resources that it provided for a few months, and La Casa Norte had to scale back as well. 

“Organizations like La Casa Norte had to really double down on the work that we were doing. The problem was that it became very difficult for organizations that are providing shelter services and we also had to make sure that our staff was safe,” Muñoz said. 

Youth have been directly impacted by the pandemic, like everyone else. Online learning has been a challenging factor since the young adults in the program are faced with unstable housing, limited interactions, and fewer places to go.

I think like everyone else right now, they’re struggling with these continuous orders […] on where they can go. They experience many of the same things that any other youth would experience, but the expectation is that on top of it, they’re dealing with housing instability which impacts everything else,” Muñoz said. 

It’s a difficult time for young adults in the program, they aren’t just affected by the physical fear of contracting coronavirus, they are also dealing with the psychological effects of having limited shelter options. 

Despite this hardship, La Casa Norte continues to serve Chicago communities by assisting the youth and families who are experiencing homelessness. The organization just celebrated 18 years of providing emergency shelter and beds, transitional housing and permanent support of housing. 

Lawrence Hall is another program in Chicago that provides transitional housing to the youth and additional services like foster care, housing, educational opportunities and therapy. 

Kara Teeple, the chief executive officer at Lawrence Hall, said this organization has served approximately 700 young adults in 5 core programs on the North and South sides of Chicago, and they are providing assistance to young adults who are experiencing homelessness. 

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, young adults in the program have been experiencing isolation due to the change in weather and the closure of businesses around Chicago, coping strategies are essential to helping them stay on track.

I think now the coping strategies are going to get more intense for young people to have to utilize as we move everything indoors,” Teeple said. “I think that everyone is worried about the mental health needs of people, and then obviously having to stay inside especially when it starts to get dark at 5:00 at night, it doesn’t lead […] to how you best use your coping strategies,” 

Finding additional ways to keep the youth engaged can be a challenge, but it’s essential to find new ways to keep them engaged so they don’t feel as isolated during the pandemic. Right now can be challenging but there are alternatives. 

So that’s again why we’re trying to get as creative as we can with what kind of engagement programming we can bring in, that still keeps everyone safe, but also gets them to actually do stuff and not feel like they’re isolated and sitting around and not having anything to do,” Teeple said. 

The support of people, spreading awareness and providing additional support to young adults who reside in transitional housing can make an impact on their lives, the majority of the time, we can’t distinguish who is homeless and who’s not. So shedding light on what’s happening can help young adults see light at the end of the tunnel.

Awareness is honestly one of the biggest ways to help us. Something that I say a lot is that youths that are experiencing homelessness, you would never know. They could have served you your starbucks this morning, or they could have served you at mcdonald’s this morning. You have no idea that they’re experiencing homelessness,” Mowery said.

Courtney Alexander can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at ___Courtney_alex23______. 

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