Guest column: ‘Homeless, not helpless’: DM supports StandUp

Rucha Mehta

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An estimated 26,000 homeless youth roam the streets of Chicago on any given day. While some of these youth are served in shelters (in one of the 119 beds designated for homeless youth in all of Chicago), the majority of these youth live on the streets, in cars, in abandoned buildings or in some other location that is not a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. In honor of National Youth Homeless Awareness Month, Dance Marathon will be spreading awareness about youth homelessness to the Northwestern community.

This year, NU Dance Marathon (NUDM) will pair with StandUp for Kids to make connections with the children living on the streets. StandUp for Kids works with more than 1.35 million youth on the streets in the United States by sending volunteers into the streets to find, stabilize and assist homeless and street kids to improve their lives through deterrence and resource programs. By walking the streets and offering the children consistent care and support, the volunteers seek to provide them with the help they need to get off the streets.

Darinda*, a StandUp for Kids liaison from Miami, described how StandUp gave her hope for her future: “StandUp has allowed me to get my self-esteem back. It takes my mind off everything else…it allows me to enjoy life again. It shows me that some that people actually want to help and do. There was a time when I had no underwear, and they gave me extras… I love StandUp For Kids.”

Darinda was forced onto the streets as a pregnant 15-year-old fleeing from an abusive boyfriend. With the help of StandUp for Kids, Darinda was eventually able to get off the streets, apply to college and work toward a better life for her and her daughter.

As Rick Koca, founder of StandUp for Kids, explained, “The reasons kids leave home are many, but some studies suggest that as many as 90 percent of the youngsters who leave home do so because of child abuse. They have been physically, sexually or emotionally hurt and taken advantage of… Sometimes leaving home seems like the only answer.”

Cody*, a homeless youth in Miami, was told by her mother “You don’t have to RUN away; you can walk away – no one is going to stop you.” Cody turned to the streets and did anything and everything to survive, including sleeping with older men, begging for food and standing in lines at soup kitchens. Then one day she met a StandUp for Kids volunteer.

In Cody’s words, “It wasn’t until I started meeting people from StandUp For Kids that I had any hope for my life. They made me feel wanted and loved… They helped me find a shelter and worked with me to find a job… I am looking forward to receiving a high school diploma and education, and I feel like my future is bright.”

Next week, NUDM will be hosting a Homeless, Not Hopeless Week to spread awareness about youth homelessness throughout NU. Food packs will be sold in the Norris basement for $3, $5 and $10, which will later be distributed to street kids in Chicago. There will also be awareness activities between Sunday, Nov. 22 and Wednesday, Nov. 25 to educate students about homelessness in the Chicago area.

StandUp for Kids has already launched a weekly street outreach sessions in downtown Chicago and is looking for more dedicated volunteers. In honor of Homeless, Not Hopeless Week, StandUp for Kids is also offering street outreach training sessions on Saturday, Nov. 21 and Sunday, Nov. 22. Register at www.nudm.org.– Rucha Mehta and Kaitlin VernonPublic Relations co-chairs, NU Dance Marathon

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