Striving for Independence

Homelessness is an overwhelming experience. Without housing or support, every ounce of effort goes into finding a place to sleep for the night, struggling to come up with the resources necessary to survive, and fighting to find the will to go it alone. It’s something no person should have to experience. For Allie, it is an experience thrust upon her when she was still a teenager.

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, almost 20,000 students in Chicago are homeless. Over 2,000 of those individuals are living without an adult – living on their own.

Allie is one of those individuals.

“People don’t realize that things are tough for me, maybe it’s because I’m young. But I go through the same difficulties of day to day life, I really do.”

Allie has been living on her own since she graduated high school. As a child, she spent a lot of time living with various family members. She grew up with her dad when she was young, her grandmother as a teenager.

When she graduated, Allie’s dream was to be on her own. In an attempt to achieve some independence, she tried moving in with a cousin. At first, the relationship was quite smooth. Allie began classes at Truman College and looking for work. But as in most scenarios where money and family are involved, things took a turn for the worse.

Allie was having a hard time finding a steady job, as she quickly found herself in the ‘needs experience for job, needs job for experience’ loop. She would pick up whatever work she could – but when money started to get tight, tensions rose in the house and she had to leave.

She then began a months-long journey from house to house, staying with whatever friends could provide her a bit of space.

 “I hated couch hopping. I felt dirty and uncomfortable. I constantly felt like this wasn’t me, it’s not who I am.”

Allie tried a couple of youth homelessness programs, but they were mostly drop in services and shelters and couldn’t provide her with stable housing or the resources she needed to help her build towards self-sufficiency. Allie’s goal since graduation had always been independence, and she was having a hard time accepting help.

“I remember a friend had asked me if there was any way she could help, and I didn’t think there was. I mean, how do you help someone in my situation?”

It was that very friend who introduced her to Heartland Alliance’s NEON youth housing program and Verda, her new case manager.

“I met Verda on my first day. I’m pretty shy, and so her energy and happiness really helped break the ice.”

From the get go, Verda wanted to develop programming based on Allie’s goals for her future. NEON’s housing-first philosophy allowed Allie to test the waters of independent living – providing her with her own apartment in exchange for regular work with Verda to build skills that would bolster her newfound independence.

In the first months, Allie was just trying to get situated in her new apartment. Finding furniture, learning her surroundings, making the place home. She had to figure out how to live on her own for the first time ever.

“Those first few months were really weird. The silence was so strange for me. I was happy I was working at the time – I needed to keep busy.”

Allie was then working as a summer camp counselor. She has a real interest in helping young people who are struggling, and has a dream of becoming a school psychologist someday. Allie was diagnosed with Dyscalculia in the sixth grade – essentially dyslexia but with math equations instead of words.

She remembers the difficulty she had with math as a child, but recalls her father wanting her to learn alongside her peers. Perhaps one of her first moments facing adversity on her own, she thanks her father for instilling a strong sense of willpower in her.

“I’ve been ready for whatever comes at me for a long time. I feel I’ve been independent since I was nine. My dad instilled that independence in me very young.”

Today, Allie’s focus remains on the future. She is working closely with Verda to find stable work, prepping for an interview with a retail chain and keeping her options open for new opportunities.

She also loves the apartment that NEON helped her get. Her neighborhood has mini street-side libraries all over. As an avid reader, Allie is excited to share her love of books with her neighbors.

“I read everything, but I really do love books on vampires and stuff like that.”

Allie is now totally focused on ensuring that the independent girl trying to make her way has her own happy ending. She’s growing more and more confident that it will happen.

“Everybody has a story. Everybody has been through stuff. It’s up to you to change your own story.”

Heartland Alliance is proud to help Allie on her path toward independence – and having the opportunity to provide her a space to grow, learn, and become her own person in her own home has been a pleasure for both the NEON team and Allie.

“Nowadays, I feel secure and safe. I feel like people care about me. This is a good place.”