Chicagoland

A home for students who are homeless

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
August 9, 2017

Blessing of Phoenix Hall

On July 27, supporters and organizers blessed Phoenix Hall, a residence for eight students at North Lawndale College Prep who are homeless. It is a collaborative effort between the North Lawndale Student Housing Initiative, Old St Patrick's Parish, Empower to Succeed, the Night Ministry, Youth Outreach Services and many community-based organizations and residents.
Tierra Jackson reads a prayer blessing the entryway of Phoenix Hall on July 27. Phoenix Hall is a residence for eight students at North Lawndale College Prep who are homeless. It is a collaborative effort between the North Lawndale Student Housing Initiative, Old St Patrick's Parish, Empower to Succeed, the Night Ministry, Youth Outreach Services and many community-based organizations and residents.(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The exterior of Phoenix Hall, a residence for eight students of North Lawndale College Prep who are homeless. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Paul Hamann, president and CEO of the Night Ministry, addresses a gathering at Phoenix Hall on July 27. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Tierra Jackson started her freshman year at North Lawndale College Prep, she faced more challenges than just earning good grades and making new friends. Her family was living in a homeless shelter located in a church basement on the city’s South Side.

There was no money for lunch or school supplies and since lights out at the shelter was 9 p.m., she often did her homework in the only place where there was light — the bathroom.

She and her family lived in the shelter during her freshman and sophomore years.

“It was one of the most cataclysmic things that’s ever happened to me in my 28 years because it’s pretty much shaped a huge portion of my identity,” said Jackson, who graduated from North Lawndale in 2008. She is now a paralegal and has been accepted to law school.

“As a freshman, I never would’ve said anything if my teachers hadn’t given me syllabuses for my classes and told me a list of things I would need to be successful in the classes,” she said. “I was going through the lists of books and tools and fancy calculators and thinking, ‘We don’t have money for these things. How am I supposed to get these things for myself when my aunt, my brother, myself and my four cousins are living in a shelter?’”

Her story inspired parishioners of Old St. Patrick’s Parish, 711 W. Monroe St., to support Phoenix Hall — a home that will house eight students attending North Lawndale College Prep. The parish raised money to get it up and running. Funding came from a parish capital campaign, said Father Tom Hurley, pastor.

Phoenix Hall is a partnership that includes the parish, the Night Ministry, the North Lawndale Student Housing Initiative and other community-based organizations and residents.

The Night Ministry — a Chicago nonprofit that works with people who are homeless or who have unstable housing situations — will operate the home, which will house boys and girls. There’s a computer lab, a large kitchen and every bedroom has at least one large window.

The group worked closely with the North Lawndale community and its neighborhood block groups to find a location for the home. The neighbors suggested the location as a stable block where residents have owned their homes for many years.

Before creating Phoenix Hall, the partnership looked around to for similar housing programs they could model.

“To have a housing program that’s associated with a particular high school, we think there’s one other one and that’s it. This really is groundbreaking innovative work,” said Paul Hamann, president and CEO of the Night Ministry. “Our goal is not to become the parent. It’s to provide the support needed so that the family can address its issues and then meanwhile the young person can have housing not be an obstacle to their educational aspirations.”

Phoenix Hall came out of Old St. Pat’s Kinship Initiative, a partnership between the parish and the North Lawndale neighborhood to build relationships and change lives.

A 2011 Lenten mission with Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, inspired the parish to start the Kinship Initiative. Boyle spoke about building relationships with one another — kinship — to build peace.

“The Kinship Initiative was not our desire to have one more program or one more do-gooder type of project,” Hurley said. “It can’t just be segregated cities or white people parachuting into black communities. We said, ‘Why don’t we just build the relationship?’ Is this [Phoenix Hall] that kind of project? I guess it is, but it only came about because we built up a relationship first.”

When parishioners heard of the idea for Phoenix Hall they responded with “overwhelming support,” Hurley said.

“It’s the mission of the Gospel. It’s the mission of outreach to the poor. It’s the mission of providing shelter for those who are homeless,” Hurley said.

Jackson’s family wasn’t alone in their struggle for housing. It is estimated that 8 to 10 percent of students are homeless, which means they live in shelters, motels or “couch surf.” Others are on their own and live on the streets.

North Lawndale teachers and staff know they have students with housing instability and do what they can to help, often taking them into their own homes. Jackson learned this first-hand when she revealed her living situation.

“From that moment on, it felt like the entire administration just wrapped their arms around me,” she said.

Working on Phoenix Hall has been an emotional experience for her because it brings back memories of a painful time, but seeing the project come to fruition, Jackson said, is “beautiful.”

“Even now I don’t ask my aunt why we had to go. It’s not something we talk about very much because it dredges up a lot of old feelings,” she said. “My brother was, I think, 7 at the time. He remembers it, and so do my cousins, but it’s something that we don’t really discuss.”

Topics:

  • old st. patrick’s parish
  • homelessness

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