Wall of La Casa Norte

Here in Chicago, the issue of homelessness is visible on a near-daily basis; however, what often goes unseen are the thousands of children and young adults living in poverty and without homes during one of the most critical times of their lives: as they learn and grow into adulthood. La Casa Norte, situated in the Humboldt Park community, works to combat this by following a “housing first” model where they offer a variety of housing resources and opportunities to youth and families who are experiencing homelessness throughout Chicago. Housing options, including permanent, transitional and emergency housing, help support those in need as they work towards long-term stability and self sufficiency.

At the location I visited, up to 16 male-identifying youth from the ages of 16–21 lived on-premise in a dorm-style format. This style of living offers the privacy and feeling of personal ownership of having their own living space, but also promotes social skills and collaboration as they work together to maintain the shared living spaces and complete house chores. Ultimately, this semi-permanent living situation provides the stability and security needed to get these young men back on their feet.

Steps at La Casa Norte

Holidays can be a particularly tough time for youth in these situations, as they think of the loved ones they miss and feel the absence of a structured holiday experience. For this year’s Regifting, I wanted to provide these young men with at least the semblance of a traditional Thanksgiving meal by preparing and serving a home-cooked meal the day before Thanksgiving. I and four other volunteers provided nearly the full smorgasbord of Thanksgiving fare—turkey, mashed potatoes, mac ‘n’ cheese and, of course, pie. During the event, we sat and visited with a few residents, exchanging jokes and hearing about their next steps as they stabilized themselves with new jobs and new relationships.

Mac 'n' Cheese

Overall, I was incredibly lucky to find such a caring organization to be a part of and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my time than providing good food and at least some feelings of family and togetherness for these young men during the holidays. It was truly amazing to see the impact of such a relatively small effort of cooking and simply spending time with other people, and I hope to be back to assist this organization any way I can.