Chicago Group Helps LGBTQ Youth Get Back On Their Feet

Up to 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of young Americans experience homelessness.

Studies suggest up to 40% of these youth identify as LGBTQ.

A groundbreaking study from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago found LGBTQ youth face a staggering 120% higher risk of experiencing homelessness compared to heterosexual and cisgender youth.

The study suggests a lack of acceptance both in and outside of the home as a primary cause.

A Lake View-based organization is aiming to help LGBTQ youth heal through the performing arts while linking them with resources to get them housing, financial assistance, career training and more.

The Youth Empowerment Performance Project (YEPP) operates out of the Lakeview Lutheran Church near Addison and North Halsted.

The non-profit has helped people like Malia Santiago get back on her feet.

Santiago identifies as a transgender woman, something she says led to her leaving her home more than a decade ago.

"My mom had her rules," said Santiago. "I chose I was going to live as who I am. Me knowing that I wasn’t going to live in that home."

Santiago experienced homelessness for more than 10 years, sleeping outside of churches, inside parking garages and on Chicago’s lakefront.

She showed NBC 5 where she would charge her phone on the side of a church.

She would also hide her clothes under a tree behind apartments; often coming back to nothing after others would steal them.

“A lot of times I was sitting here, especially in the rain, crying,” said Santiago. "Bawling out like, why am I here?"

Santiago says her moment of change came just more than a year and half ago when she "found God."

YEPP had helped her heal through a performance that told the story of her life.

"I felt like I was in control, I was in control of my life in that moment," said Santiago. "I get to tell my story."

YEPP board member, Avi Bowie, volunteers his time with the organization.

"There aren’t very many spaces like this," said Bowie. "[It] creates opportunities for young people to parlay that into the rest of their lives in terms of their job seeking, in terms of the relationships they’re forming."

To find out more about the Youth Empowerment Performance Project, click here.

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