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Helping homeless youths: The Night Ministry

 According to the Lakeview Action Coalition, there are approximately 26,000 youths in Illinois that experience homelessness with15,000 youths in Chicago alone. Youths who have to suffer homelessness have very few options in order to help them get back on their feet, say officials. But several organizations around the city, including the Night Ministry, are working to help them find a way to get back on their feet. Megan Groves, marketing & communications coordinator for The Night Ministry, a Lakeview-based, non-profit organization that helps homeless youths, says the most important thing is to offer help to these kids no matter what situation.
“We talk to young people and help them out,” Groves said. “We are going out there to help the youth and build relationships with the individuals.”
              The Night Ministry, founded in 1976, offers many programs and supplies for the homeless living on the streets of Chicago.
              According to the Night Ministry, one of the largest demographics they help is the African-American community. From July 2009 to June 2010, the agency assisted 36,905 African-Americans. Of those, 11,427 were ages of 13 to 34. The Night Ministry lists many reasons for homelessness, including lack of employment, domestic violence, problems in school and drugs.
             “We have that core groups of youths we help more than others,” Groves said. “But there are some we only see once or twice and we still help them.
               The Night Ministry offers a number of programs for homeless youths in the city. Two mainstays of their organization are their Youth Outreach program and Youth Housing program..
               “With our youth outreach program we offer meals, supplies and counseling to individuals who want it,” Groves said.
                 Their youth outreach program also has a health outreach bus that makes two stops in Lakeview and one stop in Rogers Park every week. Groves said the van has about four volunteers working with youths either helping packing meals, handing out safe sex or hygiene kits. While the youth outreach team has no physicians on hand, Groves said they can help point these youths in the right direction.
                “The outreach time is going out their bringing help to the youth directly, rather than a social service agency that a young person experiencing (homelessness) has to go to,” Groves said. “We have a set schedule [stops in Lakeview and Rogers Park] every week so the kids know we are there. We build these relationships and refer them to services they need or help them make a plan, pertaining to an individuals need.”
         Along with their Youth Outreach team that is helping build relationships on the street, the Night Ministry also has several youth housing programs that offer overnight and daytime living arrangements.
        Their Open Door Youth Shelter has two core, housing programs, which include their interim housing and transitional living programs. Groves said that the interim housing is a way they can help build relationships with the youths and help them along their way.
         Their transitional living program, Groves said, offers youths with a longer stay limit. Youths, ages 16-20 can stay at the shelter for as long as two years.Groves said the Night Ministry opened a new shelter in January of this year, which is open January to May. The shelter, Groves said is the city’s first overnight only youth shelter.
           “It’s a easy place for youths to come if they need a place to stay,” Groves said.
           But Groves said the most important thing is to build trust and relationships with the young people the agency serves.
                 “You to talk to young people and build relationships with them,” Groves said. “Trust builds from there and you can help refer these kids to services they need and with that trust they are more likely to go and receive help.”
By Chris Zois

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