The Intersectionality of Homelessness
More than 82,000 people experience homelessness in Chicago each year. For each and every one of these individuals, homelessness did not just happen. It was the result of a matrix of social, systemic, and personal factors such as economic inequality, discrimination, physical and mental health, job insecurity, and sexual orientation.
This is called the intersectionality of homelessness.
Intersectionality shapes the experience of homelessness—what it looks and feels like is different for each and every one of these community members. For some, it may mean literally sleeping on the streets; for others, it may mean couch-surfing—bouncing from one temporary living situation to another.
And just as there are no simple explanations for homelessness nor uniform experiences of it, there are no easy, one-size-fits-all solutions. This is where The Night Ministry comes in, addressing the unique circumstances of each individual we serve as we support them on their journeys to greater stability.
Let's look at just a few of the factors that contribute to homelessness.
Health and Homelessness
We know that housing and health care are closely related. Conditions like diabetes, depression, and HIV/AIDS are found at disproportionately high rates among individuals experiencing homelessness.
An acute health crisis can bring higher medical expenses or the loss of work that, coupled with other factors, can push an individual or a family out onto the streets. A chronic health condition can lead to a disability which makes it impossible to maintain stable housing.
Meanwhile, the conditions of homelessness—unsanitary environments, exposure to the elements, malnutrition, to name just a few—can make existing health conditions worse or cause new ones.
And, if you are homeless, how do you access health care? Without health insurance, you may be at the mercy of overburdened clinics, often located miles away from where you are staying.
The Night Ministry intervenes at the intersection of health and homelessness, bringing free basic medical care to those who cannot access it through the Health Outreach Bus, which visits seven Chicago neighborhoods six days a week, and the Street Medicine Team, who make contact with individuals in more than 30 sites across the city.
Housing, Income, and Homelessness
There are only 35 units of affordable housing available for every 100 Americans living at or below the poverty line. Because of this affordable housing shortage, nearly 11 million low-income households spend at least half of their income on housing.
Under these conditions, they walk a razor-thin line between having a roof of their head and being on the streets. The loss of a part-time job they rely on to supplement their income; a prescription they pay full price for because their employer doesn't offer health insurance; or an emergency car repair that results in mounting debt from a high-interest payday loan are all-too-common scenarios that trigger a chain of events that put housing in jeopardy for our fellow Chicagoans who live paycheck to paycheck.
The Night Ministry steps in when many hit this intersection, meeting their needs for food, hygiene supplies, clothing, and other essentials when money is tight, and linking them with housing and employment resources while providing ongoing support.
Race, Discrimination, and Homelessness
Much of Chicago's lower cost housing stock is located in the South and West Sides of the city, in largely African American neighborhoods lacking economic development. These areas are often far from the types of job opportunities that would allow households to create a safety net, and where disproportionately low graduation rates and high incarceration rates have birthed generations with limited access to the resources that would help them build happy, productive lives. This is where centuries of discriminatory housing, employment, education, and criminal justice policies and practices intersect with homelessness.
The link between discrimination and homelessness is underscored when looking closer at the breakdown of poverty and homelessness by race. The proportion of African Americans experiencing homelessness far exceeds their representation among Americans living in poverty.
Through its newest housing program, The Night Ministry is working at this intersection in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. Phoenix Hall provides homeless students from North Lawndale College Prep High School a stable living environment that supports them as they pursue their high school diploma, which significantly reduces their risk of experiencing homelessness in the future.
Youth Pregnancy and Homelessness
Becoming pregnant while a teen or young adult significantly increases the chances of becoming homeless. In Chicago and suburban Cook County, a third of homeless young women are expecting or parenting.
Some young women are forced to move out of the home when news of their pregnancy arrives; others are kicked out when other household members tire of the needs of a newborn. Once homeless, the mother and her child become vulnerable at a time when material and emotional support are vital to both of their well-beings.
The Night Ministry is in action at the intersection of youth pregnancy and homelessness. Four of our five Youth Housing Programs serve pregnant and parenting young women and their children. One, the Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program (RAPPP), works specifically with pregnant and parenting young women and their children, offering safe housing that fosters stability and positive parenting skills.
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Youth Homelessness
Adolescents and young adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness or housing instability. Relationships with parents, caretakers, or other adults in a household may deteriorate when a young person comes out of the closet. This, compounded by other issues in the home, can result in a youth being out of the home on their own.
And once on the streets, LGBTQ youth are at greater risk of experiencing trauma, including physical harm and sexual assault, and die early at a rate twice as high as homeless youth in general.
The Night Ministry is there for young people at the intersection of homelessness, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The Crib, our emergency overnight shelter for young adults, operates as a safe haven for many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, and the Youth Outreach Team creates a strong, supportive community among the same population on the streets of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.
The Night Ministry at the Intersections
Every year, The Night Ministry meets more than 5,300 of our fellow Chicagoans who find themselves at these intersections.
With your support, 1,207 homeless and medically vulnerable individuals received medical care, HIV/STI testing, and case management at the Health Outreach Bus. Together we housed nearly 400 homeless young people and 43 of their children. Our volunteers brought 88,275 nourishing meals to the hungry.
We hope you will continue to stand with us at the intersections as we compassionately provide housing, health care, and human connection.