Government Funding Seeks to Help Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth

Congressmen earmark funding to help local non profit build homeless shelter for vulnerable youth.


Devin Oommen

Rep. Bill Foster and Rep. Sean Casten present a check to 360 youth services.

Devin Oommen, Staff Writer

With the effects of the pandemic still reverberating through communities, a local non-profit and two local federal representatives shared news that increased relief is coming for youth most in need.

360 Youth Services, a non-profit based in Naperville, together with Rep. Bill Foster and Rep. Sean Casten announced plans to use $3 million in federal funding for a crisis shelter to provide for homeless LGBTQ and minority youth aged 18-24. Dawn Melchiorre, interim executive director at 360 Youth Services, said the money will aid the group in expanding assistance further than they are currently able.

According to 360 Youth Services officials, the pandemic’s effects left an increased number of youth homeless. In response, the group set up an emergency shelter in an area hotel.

“We have 15 rooms right now,” Melchiorre said. “We have a long waitlist; so we know that there are more needs out there than we can currently handle.”

Melchiorre said youth in this age group may not have the income to cover all expenses for food, housing and transportation.

“They’re making those decisions of, ‘Do I pay rent?’ or, ‘Do I put gas in my car to get to work?’ ‘How do I feed myself?,’ and something has to give,” she said. “What we’re seeing a lot of times it’s the housing piece that’s really breaking these youth.”

Director of housing, Valerie Tawrel, said with the money the group plans to build or find a larger space that increases the amount of youth the group can house. Additionally it would expand the services the group can offer.

“Anywhere from a relatively modest 25-bed unit that would have some really inclusive space to perhaps larger than that,” Tawrel said. “It’s just more a matter of really wrapping our head around need and making sure that we are Inclusive and comprehensive in our plan. The group aims to provide shelter, health services and other basic necessities, such as a place to shower and charge a phone. The objective is to provide steps that allow youth to become more independent over time through programs such as their rapid rehousing, with the assistance of 360 Youth Services, that allows admitted youth to have a lease in their name.

“An important next step is housing. We want to take them towards self-sufficiency,”Tawrel said. 

The funding comes from the $1.5 trillion omnibus appropriations bill, H.R. 2471, signed by President Joe Biden on March 15. The bill includes millions in funding earmarked for community projects.

Foster, the representative for Illinois’ 11th district, and Casten, the representative for Illinois’ 6th district, worked to acquire the funding for this and other local community projects.

“One of our main duties as an elected member of Congress is to try to repair some of the holes in the safety net in our society,” said Foster. “Unfortunately many LGBTQ+ youth are missing the main safety net that so many of us depend on, which is our family.”

The clients of 360 Youth Services include youth who do not have the support of their families. Casten said the assistance the group provides creates a support system for these youth.

“If you have the chance to go to one of the 360 facilities, you see a community,” said Casten. “You see people living in a home together. They’re sharing their meals together. They’ve got a safe space that they can go to.”

A link to 360 Youth Services website can be found here.