"According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless over 11,000 Chicago youth ages 14-24 are homeless and living on their own without the support of family or a guardian.
As gun violence continues to take young lives in our communities, and with the links between poverty and violence well established, local philanthropists and youth homelessness experts have come together to create a new initiative that will provide safe space and programming designed to break the cycles of homelessness and violence for young people in Chicago.
Born from research showing that traditional models of time-limited, crisis-focused support in many youth programs are ineffective at helping young people out of poverty as they move into adulthood, the LYTE Collective and the Knight Family Foundation are partnering to build the LYTE Lounge, a South Side community center where the focus will be on building long-term supportive relationships and a deeper investment in each young person that goes well beyond their current crisis situations.
"Young people want what we all want," said Casey Holtschneider, Executive Director and founding member of the LYTE Collective. "They want a community of people who love them, who are going to stand with them for as long as they need, who will invest in them as whole human beings with incredible gifts, talents and dreams, and who will fight for the opportunities and social, racial and economic justice they deserve.
That's what ends homelessness for youth. That's what ends violence on our streets. That's what we are building at LYTE Collective."
The Knight Family Foundation recently pledged a $500,000 challenge grant to launch the "Turn on the LYTE" Campaign, an initiative to raise more than $2 million to renovate the group's cutting-edge youth community center and provide for overall operating costs.
The first gift in response to the challenge came from The Pierce Family Foundation, which has also provided campaign support, followed by pledges from the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Owens Foundation, the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund, the Chicago Community Trust and the Prince Charitable Trusts.
"We invest in people who we know have the vision, innovation and passion to change lives in real ways and over the long term," said Becky Knight, President of the Knight Family Foundation. "When we met the members of the LYTE Collective, we knew immediately that this group was something special. They have a tremendous amount of experience and a genuine commitment to youth leadership, both of which are necessary ingredients to create transformative programming for young people in Chicago."
The LYTE Lounge, a youth community center that is the foundation of the LYTE Collective approach, will be located in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood. The pioneering approach to supporting youth struggling with poverty and homelessness will house a music studio, basketball court, performance stage, teaching kitchen, computer lab, arts and dance space, secure storage units, meeting and gathering spaces as well as private offices for counseling and tutoring.
In addition to comprehensive recreation, education and employment programming, youth who visit the LYTE Lounge will have access to food, showers, laundry, transportation, clothing, hygiene supplies, as well as connections to safe housing, legal services, and physical and mental health support.
"Sports, music, art, and relationships are things that help you stay alive when you are a youth and you are homeless," said Derrick Fisher, a board director and founding member of the LYTE Collective. Homeless as a teenager himself, Fisher said, "They are just as important as having food and a roof over your head. They help you know that people value you as a whole person. They help you have a place to be off the streets, away from the violence, in a place and with people who believe in your future."
The building, located at 76th and St. Lawrence Avenue, was secured with the assistance of 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer. "Collaborating with LYTE Collective to support youth in our community and throughout Chicago has come at an important time," said Alderman Sawyer. "The impact of the barriers to employment, the disinvestment in supportive programs and the consequential decrease in safety that our youth face is unacceptable. It is critical that we respond to this crisis as a community, sharing ideas and resources, and joining together to lift up young people and their futures."
Construction is scheduled to start on the Lounge this Fall and programming will begin in 2018."