Chicago has thousands of homeless kids, but only 300 beds

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - When we think about homelessness in the city of Chicago, we often think of adults. But there are many children who are wondering where they will sleep tonight.

Homeless-ness is an issue that affects thousands of Chicago Public School children. It’s an issue that has Chicago at the tipping point, unless those children can get off the streets as quickly as they end up on them.

In Chicago, there are only 300 beds for the thousands of homeless children.

A lot still needs to be done.

Peter Esper can easily remember the time he went nearly a week with no food.

"I went like 5 days. One day my stomach balled up and I just threw up," Esper said.

His nightly routine: hang out at a friend's house, and then walk to the Red Line at 3 a.m.

"I slept on the Red Line (every day)," he said.

FOX 32: how did you wake yourself up to go to school?

“I guess for me, going to school for a long time, my body used to waking up same time every day, so I normally woke up at the right time," he said.

Esper was just one of 20,205 Chicago Public Schools students who were homeless last year, along with their family.

2,622 of them were homeless without family, meaning they were out there all alone.

"We need a space for our young people," said Ericka Williams.

Williams is the manager of "Teen Living Programs... " Drop in Center, which is just one part of the non-profit organization that provides housing and resources for young people  like Esper.

Williams helps link them to the services they need.

"Meals, transportation assistance, assistance with going back to school, employment and training and most importantly, housing," she said.

This "Teen Living Programs" center is one of only three for homeless youth in the entire city.

“One on the South Side here in Washington Park. We have one on the North Side. The Broadway Youth Center, and one in Humboldt Park with la casa Norte,” said Jeri Linas.

Linas is the executive director of Teen Living Programs, which also runs "Belfort House" - a transitional living program that’s just blocks from the center.

Linas said many homeless youth like Brianna Williams are ignored, because they're invisible.

"There’s a lot of youth that I know... that don't stay in shelters. They sleep outside because they don't want people to know they're homeless,” Brianna said.

Brianna has been living at a shelter for about a month. She had been on and off the streets for years.

"I never put myself out there to be homeless. I always made sure I had good clothes. Made sure my clothes were clean," Brianna said. "Young people are very creative in hiding their circumstances. It’s culturally appropriate for them not to want to stand out. They don't want to be different so they hide what's happening."

Two years ago, the city found $2-million to help fund the three city Drop in Centers. But more are needed.

"We have to intervene. We have to reach these young people as an intervention strategy - as a prevention strategy," Linas said.

The intervention is working for Brianna. She finished her high school coursework and is headed to Kennedy King Community College to study culinary arts.

"Sometimes I think about owning my own restaurant. But then sometimes I think of how much stress that is," Briana said.

And then, there's Esper.

‘Teen Living Programs’ helped to get him enrolled in Wendell Phillips High School last year, where he worked hard and finished what he started before he became homeless.

"I got accepted into a few colleges. I got a partial scholarship to NYU, but I gotta go to a 2 year college first, then transfer,” Esper said.

FOX 32: Aren't you proud of yourself?

“Yes m'am," Esper said.

Linas said that Brianna and Esper are proof that the number of homeless youth in Chicago Public Schools can be reduced with help from the city, and the people who live in it.

"These are young people from our own communities. And it's really important to acknowledge that,” Linas said.