Storage for Homeless Young People Promotes Health, Employment, Stability

Storage lockers.

When young people don’t have a stable place to live, it’s hard to keep track of valuable items. Identification, seasonal clothing, job-appropriate attire, educational resources like books and electronics, medications, medical records, irreplaceable mementos – all can be lost during an episode of homelessness. Youth don’t want to be perceived as homeless, and try to avoid the stigma of carrying bags around with all their belongings. Providing storage spaces to runaway and homeless youth can help them out, but how can youth- and family-serving organizations make this happen? We spoke to Lara Brooks, director of the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative, to learn more.

Storage needs to be free to participants and connected to caring, trustworthy individuals and referrals to programs and services.  Specifically, “Storage programs must exist within social service, housing, and basic needs programs, within or close to youth drop-in centers,” said Brooks. “Access to storage programs must exist in more than one location.”

Further, young people experiencing homelessness often express concerns about neighborhood relations in terms of being targeted for loitering or experiencing violence if they are transgender or gender non-conforming youth.  

Other key recommendations include financial and physical access to transportation – both for the young people and for their property – and systems for mail and document retention and replacement.

Research also suggests the following benefits of storage programs:

  • Violence Prevention. When young people don’t have a safe place to store their property, it can be misplaced or stolen, leading to disagreements and even fights. Dedicated storage space enhances youth safety.
  • Improved Mental Health. While they may leave things with a relative or friend, young people are often concerned that they cannot trust other people not to seize their property. Losing precious documents and keepsakes can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
  • Ending Homelessness. Identifying documents provide a step toward employment and/or education, which in turn may help young people achieve self-sufficiency and stable housing.

Additional resources: Find abstracts of other literature on storage lockers and runaway and homeless youth in our digital library.

Learn how the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative got started, and learn about similar storage programs for the homeless, by reading the Needs Assessment and Recommendations (PDF, 1.4MB).

Learn ways that libraries can help homeless young people, including lockers for youth.

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