CHICAGO (CBS) — New numbers out Tuesday reveal child homelessness is up 38% during this recession, which means a staggering 1.6 million American children are homeless annually.
Illinois was ranked at number 20 and, in Chicago, data provided by the Chicago Public Schools showed 15,580 homeless students during the 2010-11 school year.
While many children and teenagers are worried about homework or dating, these youth are worried about where they’ll sleep for the night or have their next meal.
CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez joined a youth outreach team recently, to catch up with some homeless twenty-somethings.
On a cold Chicago night, the lines were long on Halsted Street for a free meal. The average age of those in line was 20.
Rabbi Menachem Cohen, coordinator of the Rogers Park branch of The Night Ministry – an outreach group for Chicago’s homeless – has been serving up soup and compassion at The Night Ministry’s Youth Outreach van for the last five years.
And for many of those who line up for a meal each evening, it’s the highlight of a night that will be spent searching for a place to sleep.
“We’ve slept in abandoned buildings, garages; you know, where ever we could find that, you know, just kept us out of the weather,” said Chris Gonzalez.
Gonzalez visits the Night Ministry van regularly; ever since his parents cut him off.
“They’re kind of just done dealing with me. They don’t want to put up with my stuff anymore, my crap,” he said, choking back tears.
Juan Gallaher, another of the young people in line, said, “I’m gonna try to go to a friend’s house. … If not, I just kinda stay out, either walking or on the train. … There’s nothing else I can do.”
But Gallaher, like most of the young poeple lined up at the southwest corner of Belmont Avenue and Halsted Street to meet the van, has had a tough time finding work.
“I have friends with PhDs that can’t get a job, for one. So what’s that say for the rest of us?” Gallaher said. “And, for two, like I mentioned already, if you’re not getting proper sleep, you’re not getting proper food, you can try your best, but some days you’re just going to pass out, probably literally.”
Cohen said the jobs that most homeless people get are part time minimum wage jobs with no benefits.
“You can’t afford a fair market two-bedroom apartment in Chicago … or anywhere in the country, really, but in Chicago it takes like 70 hours just to pay for an apartment if you’re working minimum wage,” Cohen said.
The Night Ministry’s transitional living program is helping some youth to start out on their own.
“I was feeling like I’m never going to graduate now,” 19-year-old Gerardo Cruz said of his decision to drop out of school to work to support his family. When his mother and three siblings went to a shelter that didn’t take older boys, he was given a room with the Night Ministry’s transitional living program and a chance to attend an alternative high school.
Now, he’ll be graduating and he hopes he can become a police officer.
The problem for homeless youth is there are only about 300 shelter beds available in Chicago for their age group. In the past three months alone, The Night Ministry has turned away 325 youth, 60 of them under the age of 18.