Jermayne is cutting a path from homelessness to a bright and sustainable future; one he envisions will include a home of his own and a job he loves. Throughout his young life his path has rarely been straight or smooth, but with support from Covenant House Illinois (CHIL), he is putting one foot in front of the other, determined to make a better road as he advances.
Courteous, soft-spoken, and very tall (he is 6’3”), Jermayne (not his real name) shakes his head when he thinks of the path behind him. “It’s been a road to travel in these 24 years,” he says.
He was just a small child growing up on the west side of Chicago when his path took its first sharp turn. He says the man he knew as his father routinely beat him and his mother, before finally walking out on them when Jermayne was 7 years old. “I don’t really remember him, except for the bad things,” he says.
He, his mother, and sisters scraped by, until, at age 19, Jermayne was hit by a car and was left with catastrophic injuries. “I had brain surgery, lung surgery, a collapsed right lung, a broken right rib, a bruised right leg,” he says. “I was paralyzed for a month and a half.”
It was mid-December before he was able to take his first steps since the accident. Excited to share this progress with his family, he looked forward to the holidays. But on Christmas Eve, his path took another sharp turn. His mother, while crossing the street in Chicago, was herself hit by a car and killed. “I’ve been homeless ever since,” Jermayne says.
“Everything was so stressful to me. I felt alone and very sad. I was in the streets and had nowhere to go,” he recalls. “I was sleeping in abandoned buildings, all kinds of stuff on me. I just got so tired.” Unable to get his bearings, he tried to harm himself and also made choices that landed him in jail.
Jermayne emerged from incarceration with new resolve. Still without a stable living situation, he got a cot at a local youth shelter, pursued his high school diploma, and became a certified level 1 welder.
One cold winter morning, as he was leaving the overnight shelter, Jermayne told some friends he had nowhere to go. One of them suggested he check out CHIL, which had just opened as a drop-in center in Chicago in February 2017. Jermayne has been coming to CHIL regularly ever since.
“The attitude here is always positive; the energy is always great. As soon as you come in the door, they smile; there’s never a frown on anyone’s face,” Jermayne says. “I just come out here and talk to the staff—Nichole, Caroline, John, Sean, Jessica—all of them. They make us feel at home.”
Since opening its doors to youth in Chicago, CHIL has served more than 340 young people, who have made a total of more than 8,000 visits to the drop-in center. CHIL case managers, youth advisors, and partners have responded to the immediate needs of youth facing homelessness, providing a range of services from food and clothing, to computer use, job searches, and medical care.
“They can also help you to better your life,” Jermayne says. “Maybe you need to get your birth certificate or your social or your I.D.; or you have all that, but you just don’t have any job leads. Or you have the job leads; you just don’t have the transportation. They can help you with all different things.”
Jermayne says CHIL has helped him to feel more confident about his future and encouraged him to pursue his career in welding. “At first I was complacent with a factory job or any job, as long as it paid minimum wage. But I’m a certified welder and very competent, so I feel like I should use my abilities to the fullest.”
He’s also clarified his personal goals and the path that will take him where he wants to be. His next steps are to find stable housing and to become a part of his 6-year-old daughter’s life. “I don’t want her to think she has no one out here. I want to be a motivating factor in her life.”
For other youth facing homelessness, Jermayne advises, “Never lose hope or faith. You gotta keep going. If you just stop, what are you going to become in life?”
And for those youth experiencing homelessness in Chicago, he recommends they visit CHIL. “It’s a good place to be if you really don’t know where you’re going on your road. You’re trying to find which road to take and they can help you to choose the right path,” he says.