The Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County (the Alliance) doesn’t just want to end homelessness for youth—they want youth to have a voice in how they do it. Youth leaders are critical in shaping the Alliance’s work. Now, with a recent award of $6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Alliance will be able to considerably expand and intensify their efforts.

The Alliance is one of 23 communities across the country to receive an award through the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP), a federal initiative to support housing and other services for young people under the age of 25 who are experiencing homelessness. The funds will support the Alliance in develop and implement a comprehensive community plan to prevent and end homelessness for youth in suburban Cook County. During the past school year, Suburban Cook County school districts identified 304 unaccompanied youth under the age of 18 and 6,766 students in families who were experiencing homelessness.

A key part of the Alliance’s proposal? Youth system navigators. These guides will focus on integrating systems and developing youth-specific communications and outreach.

“The Alliance believes that youth voices should be at the center of working on youth homelessness,” says David Young, Housing Action Illinois’ Director of Capacity Building, who recently joined the Alliance’s Board of Directors. “We’re excited to have the funding to ramp up our work on this issue and really make a difference for youth and families.”

Currently, the Alliance gets feedback and ideas from a Youth Committee, which is made up of youth homeless service providers and representatives from relevant

Jennifer Hill, Executive Director of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County.

systems, such as education, child welfare, and juvenile justice, as well as their Youth Action Board, made up of young people who have experienced homelessness.

In 2018, the Alliance was one of five communities selected to join the national 100 Day Challenge to end youth homelessness. The 100 Day Challenge team set and exceeded ambitious goals—from December to January, they housed 111 young people, assessed the vulnerability of 95% of the youth in their system, and engaged 30 school districts in education about available resources for youth experiencing homelessness, including an Illinois law enacted in 2017 to provide housing assistance to students and their families who are experiencing homelessness.

“We know what works, and frankly, we know what isn’t working,” said Jennifer Hill, executive director of the Alliance. “YHDP will allow suburban Cook County to research and test innovative practices to cut short the experience of homelessness for young people in our communities.”

As part of the YHDP planning process, the Alliance created a system map representing their vision for preventing and ending youth homelessness.