With summer coming to a close, residents of Phoenix Hall are among the hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students gearing up for the new school year.
The Night Ministry opened Phoenix Hall last August to provide students from North Lawndale College Prep High School (NLCP) who are experiencing homelessness with stable housing and services that support their educational goals. NLCP estimates that as many as 10% of its students are homeless. Young people without a high school education are at higher risk of experiencing homelessness, making programs that support the obtainment of a diploma crucial for ending the cycle of homelessness.
But according to Jenny Merritt, Community Engagement Manager at The Night Ministry, Phoenix Hall isn't the only resource available for NLCP students in need of housing-related assistance.
"We've had students stay at our Interim Housing Program," said Merritt. "If a student is in crisis and they just need somewhere to go, not necessarily longer term like Phoenix Hall, the Interim Program, which provides short-term, supportive housing at our Open Door Shelter – West Town, is a good option," said Merritt.
An incoming freshman who came to register at NLCP earlier this year stayed temporarily at the Interim Program while his mother searched for an apartment. Merritt said the parent and student are now reunited in a new apartment.
"That speaks to how West Town is able to meet that emergency need and help keep a family together in the long run so the student wouldn't need Phoenix Hall," she added.
Referrals for housing support for NLCP students are brought to The Night Ministry through the on-campus offices of Youth Outreach Services (YOS), an agency that works to divert minors from entering into the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. In addition to providing case management for students living at Phoenix Hall, YOS works with an average of 10 NLCP students a month who are in need of housing-related assistance but are not residing at Phoenix Hall.
YOS case manager Yolanda Robles said those services sometimes include helping families in conflict find a way to reconcile, a process that could bring a youth back into the home when appropriate.
"I'll talk with the families personally, but I will also recommend outside counseling services. Or, if the youth is looking for counseling, YOS has a professional who provides counseling at school," she said.
Merritt said it is not just current NLCP students who have benefitted from The Night Ministry presence in the community.
"When we opened Phoenix Hall, we noticed there were quite a few students that needed housing that had graduated---recent graduates who may be in community college or working and didn't have a place to stay but wouldn't qualify for Phoenix Hall, since they were no longer high school students," she said.
"One young person who is parenting came to stay at RAPPP [The Night Ministry's Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program]. We connected another student with Mercy Housing because they were in their 20's and needed a longer-term place to stay."
But, Robles said, Phoenix Hall is the right fit for some NLCP students facing housing challenges.
"Phoenix Hall plays a really great role in providing a safe environment and also helping families with resources," she said.
Robles said one student is staying at Phoenix Hall following a house fire. Her father is searching for a new apartment but encountering roadblocks such as high security deposit and income requirements.
"Phoenix Hall worked out great for her because she doesn't have to worry about where she is going to lay her head at night," Robles said.
Click here for more information about the Interim Housing Program, RAPPP, and The Night Ministry's other Youth Housing Programs.