Connections for the Homeless undertakes new young adult housing program

Julia Jacobs, Assistant City Editor

Connections for the Homeless has absorbed a new transitional housing program for young adults.

Our House will provide housing, 24-hour supervision, tutoring and counseling services to young adults between ages 18 and 23 in Evanston. The Connections board voted to approve the addition at its Jan. 22 meeting, ultimately agreeing to take full responsibility for the program after its launch in the spring, said Sheryl Bartol, a founder of the program.

The pilot of the program will take in five young men who currently work at Curt’s Cafe, a nonprofit that provides job and life skills training for at-risk Evanston youth, said Djorgy Leroy, the social services director at Curt’s Cafe. Leroy will be working with Our House to communicate with community members who are interested in supporting the program.

“We’re giving them the tools that they need to find permanent employment and establish themselves in the community,” Leroy said.

Bartol said Nehama Morton and Melissa Rooth, her co-founders, volunteered at Curt’s Cafe as social workers and recognized that the graduates of the program who were having the hardest time sustaining a job were those that did not have stable housing. Along with Leroy, the three met last August to discuss the idea of establishing an organization for at-risk youth that felt like a home instead of an institution, she said.

“I had been interested … in the issue of youth housing and had recognized it as kind of a hole in the social service fabric of Evanston,” Bartols said.

Seniors in Northwestern’s Brady Scholars Program, a three-year civic engagement program, collaborated with founders from the start to develop Our House as a community-specific way to combat youth homelessness. The students are involved in creating a curriculum to help the participants learn to manage a budget, Leroy said.

“That is really what allows them to build up their financial literacy, their independence,” Weinberg senior Veronica Benduski, a Brady scholar, said.

The young men will also take classes on cooking, maintaining an apartment and working to develop certain social skills and will have weekly one-on-one sessions with a mentor, Leroy added.

The Brady Scholars helped provide the initial push to get the idea of Our House off the ground with its website design, fundraising and business plan, Benduski said. Their last contribution will be to connect with nonprofit organizations and community members interested in helping support the program to ensure its sustainability, she added.

The Our House staff and Brady Scholars are currently working to solidify logistics of the program, secure a location in Evanston to house the participants and raise an initial $25,000 to launch the program. After the program launches and applies for foundation and federal grants, it may be expanded to host young people outside of the Curt’s Cafe trainee program, Bartol said.

“Homeless youth tend to fly under the radar screen,” Bartol said. “I’m just hoping that we can take it one house at a time, a few kids at a time, and try to help the kids who are out there who don’t have anyone else really out there advocating for them.”

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