10,000 Homeless Youths On Chicago Streets, Coalition Says
CHICAGO (AP) _ Some 10,000 homeless youths, some as young as 7 and 8, are sharing Chicago’s streets with older drifters, winos and former mental patients, a community group says.
The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which released its report Thursday, urged Gov. James R. Thompson and Mayor Harold Washington to set up a panel of religious, business and other leaders to find shelter and counseling for homeless people under 21.
″Many are runaways or ‘throwaways,’ often escaping from physical or sexual abuse from family members,″ Pat Berg, chairman of the coalition’s Youth Committee, told reporters at a Near South Side shelter.
″Once on the street, youth become easy prey for pimps, hustlers, pedophiles and serial killers,″ Ms. Berg said.
Rocky Mancini, 20, who also appeared at the news conference, said he had been on the streets since age 7 and ran away for good at age 17.
″Kids need a place to turn for help,″ Mancini said. ″I would never want my kids to grow up to be like me - a streeter. It’s sad. A lot could be done.″
Mancini left alcoholic parents in downstate Wilmington. Other homeless young come from ″wealthy white suburban families, some from rural areas, some grow up in the ghetto or the barrio while others come from wealthy city lakefront families,″ said Ms. Berg.
Washington applauded the coalition’s idea of joint state and city action to help the city’s homeless children.
″This is an idea which we have been pushing for months,″ the mayor said. ″Among my chief concerns are city ordinances and state laws to liberalize rules for homeless shelters which presently make it difficult to provide the necessary shelter at affordable prices.″
The city also is considering converting Navy Pier auditorium, the Illinois National Guard Armory on the North Side and some Chicago Park District field houses into emergency shelters to feed and shelter the homeless during the winter, officials reported.
A cold snap has sent temperatures tumbling to near zero overnight and the homeless are vying for the city’s 1,500 or so shelter beds.
The coalition report puts the number of Chicago’s homeless people under 18 years of age at 4,000, with another 6,000 between 18 and 21. A particular problem exists, it noted, with those 17 to 21.
″Not old enough to live independently, too young for adult shelters and too old for the foster care system, this group lives in a legal limbo,″ Ms. Berg said.
Ms. Berg criticized the policy of government agencies which merely send runaway children back home to run away again and again.
″Chicago is one of the most backward cities when it comes with dealing with homeless children,″ she said. ″Other cities ... have programs and shelters for children.″