Sunday, March 1, 2009

"Among Chicago's Homeless Are Teenagers..."

The Do1Thing website, which is devoted to homelessness among teenagers, has an article on Andrew Green of Uptown and Edgewater. It's local and thought-provoking, and some very expressive photos accompany it.

"Green is 19 and homeless. He spends his days walking around the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and his nights in the gym of the Epworth United Methodist Church. He’s in the single men’s program run by Cornerstone Community Outreach and is by far the youngest member. Few of the other men are under 30, and many are in their 50’s.

But in the larger picture of homelessness in America, Green is not an anomaly. Many of the nation’s homeless are teenagers, often who have grown out of the foster system with little education and fewer job skills.

Green has been homeless for 8 months and despite spending his days in a neighborhood filled with social services, he has no strong leads to a way out of homelessness." Read the entire article.


  1. Good Luck Mr. Green. It sounds like people time and again keep giving you a chance if not at success but at survival. Some days that is what life is all about, just surviving.

    Now that being said..if any bank gives this man a home loan I will drive my car through the front door.

  2. Aveda Mint Shampoo that's pretty classy.

  3. This article brings questions to mind:

    1 - If Andrew Green is from Wisconsin (just a year ago), Arizona and California, how did he end up in Uptown?

    2 - He says he doesn't want to be homeless, but has trouble following rules. He doesn't want to "graduate" from the shelter to an SRO or studio, as most plans for stabilizing the homeless require. Instead, he wants to go directly to his own apartment. I fear this attitude ensures that he will remain homeless and adrift for quite a long time.

    3 - Red flags went up for me when I read that he wants a way to make "quick money." Unfortunately, we all see how local youths make their "quick money" on our streets.

    4 - I was under the impression, from an article in the News-Star, that Cornerstone made sure the Epworth residents came from Edgewater to its day shelter in Uptown during the hours the shelter is closed. How, then - and WHY - does Andrew have a "regular corner" outside the S&L Pantry?

    5. Despite having the highest concentration of social services in the state - and possibly the country -- Uptown still has plenty of people in Andrew's position. Even though he's in the social services system, he still doesn't want to conform with a program and he still hangs out on the street corners as a "regular." It's very disheartening to me to see someone who has every opportunity to change his life literally within walking distance... and can't/won't take advantage of it.

  4. Many red flags here.
    #1) He was in the foster care system for many years. The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness has targeted 3 primary groups of homeless people to focus with interventions (the chronic homeless, women & children, and youth leaving foster care)

    #2) He's a young father who has no contact with his child's mother or his child. (not unusual for people who feel abandoned to further re-enact their feelings of abandonment where they either abandon or become abandoned again and again.)

    #3) He has nothing to do all day.

    #4) He has no H.S. diploma or GED

    The above is just what we know, but I can bet there's much more to this that wasn't printed. He needs to be in a program that targets youth leaving the foster care system. He should not have adult homeless men taking him under their wing. Why he's not participating in Neon Street Program is unclear to me, but something is really off base here.

  5. Having been in the foster care system explains a lot about why this young man is homeless. You turn 18 and you're out...even if you haven't got any familial connections, or education or skills or enough money to put a security deposit down on a cheap apartment.

    I feel uncomfortable talking about someone's situation on a blog but I know Cornerstone people have checked in here from time to time. For people who know this young man, maybe they have some suggestions for things people can do to help.

  6. I will be contacting Ald. Mary Ann Smith's office, which is keeping an eye on programming coming out of Epworth. It gets awkward because "his story" has made the press, but it's clear to me he's in the wrong program.

    If any good comes from this, he will be transferred to a program that is more suited to addressing the needs of homeless youth leaving the foster care system.

  7. So.

    Are the social services that are so important to have in Uptown failing?

    Or, are the folks in need failing the system?

    Or both?

    Regardless, sounds like Mr. Green and the various service administrators need a swift kick in the pants.

  8. Perhaps I got something different out of the article that everyone else. I am normally not a huge supporter of the homeless. I know, I sound cold and cruel, but my exposure to "the homeless" hasn't been always the best. What has shaped my perspective?

    1. My feelings towards the homeless are jaded by those that pretend to be homeless or down on their luck and beg for money.

    2. My attempts to help the homeless in the past, by offering food or drink have always been turned down...mostly by people who are not really homeless, or if they are they don't care about food, they want money to go by booze or drugs.

    This article made me think about homeless people in a different way. I never considered an 18 year old man to have the opportunity to be homeless, but it makes sense. Foster care came and went and now he has to figure out what the hell to do with his life.

    I empathized with him, because if I were down on my luck, i wouldn't want to live in an SRO or shelter (even from what I have read on UU, SROs sound like a great place to get shot, stabbed, or to die in a fire).

    What I got out of the article is that Andrew Green has a dream. It may be misguided and seemingly unrealistic in places, but it is his dream. He doesn't want to live in a SRO. He wants his own place. He wants to find a way to make a living.

    I did not find him to be unwilling to follow the rules as some have suggested, but more of a very human "bitching and moaning" about the rules that we are all wont to do. Very few people like being told what to do.

    I am curious how he made it to Uptown as well, as if I were homeless I would try to get as far away from the winter here as possible.

    I hope that he finds a way out of his plight. I really hope he does.

    I felt that this article gave me a glimpse into the life of someone who is legitimately homeless, and not that of someone who is homeless by trade.

  9. Andy, I had the same reaction that you had. I've had the same reactions from beggars who I've offered food to; in most cases, they live in the SROs. Quite a large number of them are mentally ill, as well. Where I lived in St. Louis the past few years, the same thing was going on. The young man in the article doesn't fall into that category, but the larger questions I have are whether these programs are effective in getting people away from the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Maybe James can speak to this, but I have heard that several of these agencies receive money from the government for operations, etc. Is that true? Are they all overwhelmed?

  10. Almost all social service providers receive some type of city, county, state, or federal funds. With technology and tighter budgets, there's a growing expectation that social services utilize best practices to improve the lives of their clients. That means their interventions need to be based in what research shows is most effective in creating real change.

    The causes of homelessness are complex and so are the solutions. Suffice to say, what works well in motivating someone experiencing chronic homelessness will probably be different from what works well for youth leaving the foster care system. That's why I really cringe at the thought of someone recently leaving the foster care system in a program for older men experiencing chronic homelessness. We wouldn't think to place an older homeless male in a homeless program for late adolescents. Why would we have a late adolescent in a program for older adults? The developmental needs are so different.

    Anyway, this story may have a happy ending because work is hopefully underway to make the right connections for this young man.

  11. "Anyway, this story may have a happy ending because work is hopefully underway to make the right connections for this young man."

    Good deal. If you are privy to what happens, can you let everyone know?

  12. Foster care came and went and now he has to figure out what the hell to do with his life.

    Andy, I admire your compassion. We can all feel for these folks and still not like how they live or what's (not) being done for them.

    What jars me about this article is that there's a system in place for someone like Andrew, and someone or somehow, it's not being implemented.

    Emergency shelters, like Epworth, are supposed to give someone a few nights' lodging, just enough time to get that person into the social services system and on the way to transitional housing, education, skills, whatever that person needs to escape the cycle of homelessness. Epworth and other shelters like it are supposed to be a temporary measure.

    Here we read that this kid is a regular, that he's been there for eight months. How can that be?

    We also read that he's not in any programs to help him get educated, help him get a job, or help him get vocational skills. Instead, he's a regular outside the the S&L Pantry or hanging out at a warming center.

    I find it really disturbing that there's protocol in place for people like him, and it's not being followed. He wants to improve his lot in life, but he's being given no instruction or encouragement or building blocks on how to do it.

    So unless things change, he's going to be chronically homeless.

    People will say "he fell through the cracks." That's of great concern to me, because there is a system in place to help the Andrew Greens of the world. And no one is helping this kid take advantage of it.

    Shame on them.

  13. have a major misconception about social services. Social services are not 'implemented' on people, people avail themselves of social services. What I mean by this is that Mr. Green here is autonomous like the rest of us. His involvement with and progress in social services depends ultimately on him. He needs to choose to work with them and his progress is dependent on his effort. I also think you have a misconception about the availability of transitional housing and educational services. There is very little free transitional housing for unfunded people without disabilities and only a little more for people with disabilities. Any educational programs he would likely have to pay for. People with disabilities can receive funding from the state to pay for vocational and educational services, but not the average homeless person. Again, no one can force a free person into any type of program (judges of course can order people in court cases to participate in a program)

  14. Sean, my experience in social services is that it goes beyond the homeless person's motivation. A huge part of the success comes from the skills of the staff to motivate their clients to change their lives. I've witnessed good shelters work well to motivate their clients to stabilize their lives.

    This particular young man has been in the wrong program for 8 months, so it's no wonder that it's not working for him. The approach to create change must be geared toward his developmental and psychosocial needs and that can't be done when he has older chronically homeless men taking him under their wing to teach him the "ropes".

    From reading this article, I'm very concerned that he has remained in the wrong program for as long as he has. The Chicago Alliance to End Homelessness has specifically targeted assistance for adolescents leaving the foster care system. Granted, there's more to this story, but it's worth investigating.

  15. Yes James, of course you are right about the skills of the social worker in engaging with clients, but ultimately it is up to the individual, which is my point. You contend he is in the wrong 'program' but you can't just take someone and physically stick them in some other 'program'. I would contend he is not in any program at all, just using a homeless shelter. Andrew Green is his own person, it is up to him who he works with and where he goes. I am curios about the assistance by the Alliance you mentioned that targets adolescents like Andrew. Could you say more about them, what the eligibility criteria is for them, what they offer and how to access them? I would have no problem seeking Andrew out and sharing this info to try and get him more appropriate help.

  16. Adolescents leaving the foster care system are one of the Alliance's priorities because this group is disproportionately at risk for becoming homeless... as has occurred with this young man. He's been lost in the system for 8 months and it was accidentally discovered from a reporter doing a story on teenage homelessness.

    The solution involves having someone from Ald. Mary Ann Smith's office working with the appropriate people and organizations to get this addressed. It needs to be done this way so that it can all be coordinated.

    I know of 3 different programs that work with this population, but honestly, there's something wrong when residents believe the solution involves them knowing the right resources so that they can lead the homeless out of their plight. When I've supervised social work graduate students, they learn early on that good social work is not related to knowing all the resources... it's leading people to accept the resources.

    This young man now needs someone with the skills to engage him to get the help he needs. It's no guarantee, but I can't stress enough how much the system has failed him so far.

  17. james, you clearly do not know what you are talking about and couldn't be more wrong. No need to lecture me on social work, I am a social worker and used to do outreach to the homeless mentally ill in Uptown where I helped hundreds of them off the streets and out of the shelters and into housing with supportive services. And these were individuals with untreated mental illnesses as that was the program's criteria. I have been very successful at establishing therapeutic relationships with very difficult to engage people, have conducted many trainings on outreach and engagement for social work interns and professionals and would have no problem engaging with Andrew. Your post is so full of contradictions, it is ridiculous. "good social work is not related to knowing all the resources...blah, blah, blah", hey if you do not know what the resources are, what exactly are you using your good social work skills to get people to accept? How do you use your skills to lead people to accept something you are not aware of? But who ever said good social work was about knowing all the resources and not relationship building anyhow? No one did, so why the lecture? Maybe to avoid admitting that you could not answer my question about programs to help Andrew. Being able to develop a trusting relationship and knowing what resources exist to help your client are equally important. I asked you to identify the programs that could help Andrew to see if you knew what you are talking about and you keep bluffing and blowing smoke. "somethings wrong when residents...blah, blah, blah.." please, I realize that is just your lame attempt to slam me, but residents getting involved to effect solutions to social problems is what led to the field of social work and is at its very heart. There was a time in Uptown when ordinary residents, shocked that a homeless person froze to death in their community, got together to establish REST shelter. They did not whine about the system failing or someone not being in the right 'program' or say it was the job of the Alderman's office, they did something (boy have times changed in Uptown). But clearly your agenda is not to help but to self righteously blame the "system".

  18. If I may interject here, it seems to me that both Sean and James have their hearts in the right place and have valuable professional knowledge to share with the rest of us. That's good.

    From my reading of both your comments, isn't it fair to say that this young man has been failed many times and that we all want to avoid having it happen again in our midst? One way to avoid more systemic failure is for the community to be actively involved (as Sean suggested Uptowners were better at doing in the past) and another way is for the public to seek accountability more generally from service providers in the area. Seeking accountability and bringing in additional help when needed isn't necessarily a mean or punitive thing for the service provider but may be just the thing that is needed when a service provider is having difficulty meeting the needs of certain kinds of people.

    I don't really have an answer to any of this but I hate to see a good conversation disintegrate. So, I'll raise a question. It seems to me that the community is interested in these topics. In what ways can people who are "in the know" get a productive public discussion going on these that is clear about Uptown's needs/ educational....respectful....and hopefully oriented towards positive action?

    I think Uptowners want to participate, do the right thing and make a difference. How can we harness the energies of this community towards good rather than just keep revisiting the old divisions that are getting us nowhere?

  19. I'm the author of this article about Andrew and I wanted to clear up a few minor things. He has been homeless for 8, now 9, months but has not spent the whole time at Epworth. I'm unsure of how long he has been there, but it hasn't been the whole 9 months. He came to Chicago originally to stay with a friend on the South Side, but couldn't stay with him indefinitely.

    Also as far as I know, Cornerstone provides a day shelter because it is so cold outside, but does not require people to spend the day there if they spend the night in the shelter.

    You can see more pictures of Andrew and hear him in his own voice in a new audio slide show on my blog -

    If people have other questions about the story you can leave them on the post on Chicago Homeless Blog.

    Andre Francisco

  20. Here's a little secret, Sassy. A lot of condo owners are already working to improve the lot of others and the community through their block club activities. I wonder which block clubs Neighbor Lady and Sean are in?

  21. Sassy, I pushed James about identifying the programs that could help Andrew because I am sincere about seeing if he could be connected to them and because I am skeptical any truly are available. I sense that James's priority is to blame the "system", whatever exactly that is. I continue to work with mentally ill adults experiencing homelessness or close to it, though not currently in Uptown where I had worked for 10 years. My current experience with mentally ill adults is that programs and services are becoming more and more scarce. Housing, day programming, substance abuse recovery and casemanagement services are largely all at capacity and are not taking new folks, so it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people placed in services. Part of this is due to the current economic climate as a lot of funding has been cut over the last few years. Is it the fault of service providers or the 'system' that they do not have the same capacity they used to? I do not think so. Services for people like Andrew are the most scarce, that being services for non disabled homeless adults, as I am assuming Andrew does not have any disability that could qualify him for many services. I am highly skeptical James can identify any programs that are taking referrals for which Andrew would qualify for services. If James had come right out and named them, I would have looked into them and would have had no problem searching out Andrew to engage him with the goal of leading him to these services. By the way, Andrew may qualify for Neon Street transitional housing, but at present they do not have openings though they could take his name to keep on a waiting list for future consideration.

  22. Sassy, something else about your comment that Andrew has been failed. That is not really fair. There are not simple, perfect, works every time solutions for people like Andrew. It is like people who go through inpatient rehab and then go back to using. Did the inpatient program fail? I don't think anyone can claim that. I have seen people go through the same treatment programs for drugs many times before finally being able to maintain sobriety. Their sobriety was about something finally changing in them, not necessarily the program doing something different or the program getting it right. Two people can go to the same college with one working hard and getting straight A's and a good job afterward and the other not working hard and flunking out. Did the college fail the second person? All social services involve a relationship between the provider and the participant and as we all know it takes two people to make a relationship work. Which is not to say that Andrew might not have been able to receive better services (I really don't know and won't assume so just because of where Andrew is at now), just that I don't think it is fair to simply say that Andrew has been failed. Sometimes people can do all they can and things still do not work out.

  23. Sean, I have a particular concern for what happens (or rather what doesn't happen) for a lot of kids who come out of the foster care system. For the most part, I think that we, as a country, are failing a lot of these kids. I'll stand by that assessment. How can it not be a failure when kids get moved around...miss school...not graduate...not get the skills they really need to be successful as an adult and then face the big bad world without the kind of social supports that most people take for granted? And then some people want to blame these young people for not immediately figuring it out and helping themselves? I don't get it.

    I don't know this man's history---and I am really uncomfortable discussing it on a blog---but it is possible that this young man has few supports from his youth to draw upon and that the longer he is without some proxies, the more likely it is that he could pass into chronic homelessness.

    I'm not sure why you are calling me out. What do you want? For me not to want better for the Andrews of the world? To keep my mouth shut, hope for the best and leave it to the professionals? What do you see as the appropriate role of concerned community members?

  24. Sassy, I don't mean to be really critical of you, it is just that the system can sometimes do everything it can and people will still end up in Andrew's situation, through their own choices. I am not looking to blame anyone concerning Andrew's situation and I do not want anything from you. All I want is for people to understand that you cannot assume that a system or program failed when someone ends up in a situation like Andrew's. I have seen kids in Andrew's situation be offerred numerous opportunities to only walk away from them. I want people to keep an open mind. We don't need to know all the specifics of Andrew's situation to understand, theoretically, that we cannot assume that he is where he is at because the system failed. That would assume that the system or a program has complete control over an autonomous individual and is able to do with that individual whatever the program wants to do or to achieve whatever ends the program wants to achieve. Whatever outcomes a program achieves with an individual is the result of that program's skills and resources and the individual's motivation and effort. You ask 'how can it not be a failure...', yes that can be construed a failure, but not necessarily a failure completely on part of the system. If you want to say a failure by all of society, which would include Andrew, I could go along with it. A kid could get moved around a lot because the kid's behavior necessitates it. A kid could not graduate or learn valuable skills because they choose not to study or to learn job skills. No one can force an education or job training on anyone. It takes some constructive participation. Also, that is not to say that I don't agree with you that we as a people can and should provide more resources for people struggling on the fringes of society. Okay, to be sure I answered the questions you posted because I hate it when people pretend to be sincere but ignore mine....what i want, like I said, for people to keep an open mind and realize that participants, as they have control over their choices, have a role in their success or failure as well as any program or system they are involved with; of course I do not want you to not want better for the Andrew's of the world; I would not suggest you keep your mouth shut, rather be politically active to advocate for more resources for kids leaving foster care and for the homeless, which is what concerned community members can do as well. Concerned community members can also seek dialogue directly with people like Andrew. I guess from doing the work I have done I am sensitive to people seeking to blame the 'system' or programs for the plight of certain individuals. Sometimes the resources simply aren't there (yesterday I was dealilng with a woman who would like to get into a inpatient program to get off drugs. The woman is homeless and unfunded. We called 5 different programs and none had openings. She then wanted to stop trying), and sometimes the individual in the program does not do their part.

  25. Honestly Sean, I’m hesitant to respond knowing that I will be chastised for lecturing. I believe you mean well, so I will respond to your points.
    1. I fully support the need to know resources. My book Asking the Right Questions to Get the Health Care You Need has a major focus on connecting people with the right resources.
    2. Getting a listing of the different social services is rather easy and really, anyone can do it. There’s the Blue Book that provides a listing by zip code of all the different types of social services available. Just about any social service agency has a copy.
    3. For information about specific programs for adolescents leaving the foster care system who are either homeless or at risk for becoming homeless, anyone can go to Chicago’s Alliance to End Homelessness’ website and get a complete rundown of what’s available. It’s also much more accurate than the Blue Book.

    I was among a larger group of people who worked with Ald. Mary Ann Smith’s office to address the myriad of issues that surfaced when Epworth initially discussed closing down the shelter. My feedback was that whatever plan is in place, it must be supportive of the Alliance’s plan that utilizes best practices to address issues of homelessness, and I was informed that my advice was taken.

    My concern is that from the very little I know, it appears the Alliance’s plan is not being followed. That’s why I am working with others to further investigate the matter and proceed with any necessary follow-up.

    I purposely did not and will not give resources out on a blog because I do not want local residents going out independently on their own to help out the homeless. That is not to say that residents shouldn’t be helping the homeless. It means they should work within a structured framework to be sure that it’s done well, that it’s coordinated with the other services he may be receiving, and so that both the homeless person and the resident are safe in the process. When a coordinated system is in place, it also prevents people from falling through the cracks.

    I take issue with your suggestion that Andrew might be at fault. Let me make it clear, I founded a homeless shelter and took a compassionate yet tough love approach with our guests. Everyone benefits with having some type of accountability in their life. However, an adolescent in need of help is going to respond better with trained professionals who know how to work with adolescents. It was my understanding that no teenager was going to be at that facility, but instead, transferred to a facility with specialization in the needs of a teenager leaving the foster care system. That’s where the system utterly failed him.

    Personally, my goal goes beyond fixing this one young man’s problem. I want to prevent the many other Andrew’s who also find themselves “learning the ropes” from chronically homeless older men. Band-aid solutions never work well. St. Vincent DePaul once said, “It’s not enough to do good. One must do good well.” I want this situation to be done well. All the “Andrew’s in Uptown and Chicago deserve it.