Former homeless recall past, look to future

By Bailey Dick

More than 50 students listened to the stories of two formerly homeless Chicagoans  at Beyond Homelessness: Real Stories, Real Struggles, Real People, a program sponsored by the Loyola Coalition for the Homeless.

The event, which was held in the Information Commons and co-sponsored by LIFT, Loyola 4 Chicago and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, provided background on a bill in the Illinois state legislature, the Sweet Home Chicago bill, that the group is currently advocating for.

The highlights of the evening were the stories told by the two speakers, Robin and Senovia, who are both formerly homeless Chicagoans who now speak on behalf of the Sweet Home Chicago bill.

The oldest of seven children in a fatherless household, Robin was subject to frequent beatings by his mother. He was often beat up by his friends, and became involved with drugs and gangs.

While making the commute to class at the Art Institute of Chicago one day, Robin was sexually assaulted. He began a downward spiral that included cutting himself and selling drugs at the request of his stepfather.

Robin fought constantly with his mother, who despised his being gay, and he even entered her bedroom one night with a knife with the intent of killing her. Robin was kicked out of his house the following morning after his mother discovered that he had been cutting himself the night before.

Robin still graduated from Marshall High School, even though he is “26 years old and illiterate.”  He lived in a nursing facility for eight years, where he battled the “voices inside his head.”

However, there is more to Robin than the voices he battled years ago. “Don’t put a face on homeless people,” he warned. “It’s not an old man or an old woman talking to themselves walking down the street. It’s young people, too. It could be anybody.”

Senovia had it good as a child. “I was spoiled. I was the first girl,” she said. She lived with her grandmother during her childhood, but she had two children by the age of 16.

In order to take care of her grandmother’s health expenses and provide for her young family, Senovia dropped out of high school. She lived with her two children and her grandmother in a senior citizen’s facility, but was forced to find somewhere else to go by the facility’s management.

On the advice of her friends, Senovia took her two children to a the public guardian facility, a shelter that was old mental health hospital. No longer living with her grandmother, Senovia became a ward of the state at 16. She travelled back and forth from relatives’ homes to various shelters to her grandmother’s senior citizen housing for two years.

Her children were taken into state custody, as Senovia began experimenting with drugs and serving time in jail. Senovia was diagnosed with depression and was admitted to a mental hospital for a period of time.

On the path to recovery, Senovia moved into her own apartment this June, and is working with the Coalition for the Homeless in hopes of “being a voice for those afraid to speak.”

The organization is working with Illinois state legislators in hopes of passing the Sweet Home Chicago bill. According to junior Lydia Gajdel, a junior theology and history major, the bill would utilize 20 percent of TIF funds, which come from property taxes, to be used for low income housing development instead of gentrification projects. “We’re not fighting for the homeless, but fighting with them,” the 20-year-old said of the bill.

The group focuses their efforts on advocacy and justice, and invited attendees to last night’s event to fill out pre-written letters to aldermen from the Lake Shore campus area.

In addition to urging the student in attendance to become involved in the Coalition for the Homeless, the two speakers also asked students to remember that the homeless are not so different from them.

“They’re just like you,” Robin said. “We’re all made by the almighty in his image.”

“I thought you looked like Jesus,” Senovia said to Robin with a laugh.

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