On rainy nights in Chicago, The Night Ministry Youth Engagement team walks through cars on the ‘L’, handing out hygiene kits and talking to those taking shelter on the train for the night.
“I talk to a lot of women. When I go looking, I go looking for mothers, young people with kids,” says Sharday Hamilton, Peer Outreach Professional for The Night Ministry.
At 22 years old, Sharday is close in age to many of the young people served by The Night Ministry.
“They feel more comfortable talking to me,” Sharday says. “I’m able to share my story. I lived at the RAPPP (Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program) program for nine months. A lot of people are afraid of judgement. It’s relatable to me when a youth says they don’t want services, because that’s how I was. But look at me now, now I have housing.”
The Night Ministry provides housing, healthcare and supportive services to adults and youth who struggle with homelessness or housing instability. The Response-Ability Pregnant and Parenting Program (RAPPP), funded by Chicago Foundation for Women, offers pregnant and parenting youth ages 14 through 21 and their children safe and nurturing short-term housing in an environment that fosters stability, responsibility, and independent living skills. RAPPP is the only housing program in Chicago that reserves beds for pregnant or parenting minor-age girls as young as 14 who are also experiencing housing instability.
Sharday left home at 17 to move in with her boyfriend when she became pregnant with her daughter. After her mother died, Sharday didn’t have anyone to turn to when she lost her housing following an altercation with her boyfriend. She moved into her family’s now-vacant home, depending on neighbors for clean water and electricity for her and her daughter.
Sharday stayed in her family’s home for nine months. In August, the Department of Child and Family Services took custody of Sharday’s daughter. It was several more months before the house was condemned and Sharday decided to look into some of the housing services referrals made by DCFS.
Before The Night Ministry “I felt like didn’t nobody care,” Sharday says. “Like, okay, you’re homeless. We all have problems.”
At The Night Ministry, Sharday was able to enroll in the parenting classes and therapy necessary to regain custody of her daughter. She finished school and gave birth to her son. The Night Ministry helped her obtain ID for herself and her children.
Sharday joined Youth 4 Truth, a youth leadership development cohort at The Night Ministry, where she helped create a resource guide for other young people coping with housing instability, and got a sense of the power of her voice. “For people to hear me, for me to be heard,” was a new experience for Sharday.
As a member of Youth 4 Truth, Sharday had the opportunity to advise the Chicago City Clerk’s office on the development of the Chicago CityKey ID card.
“I done got arrested before for not having a state ID because I didn’t have proof of who I was,” Sharday says. “I wasn’t able to get no job, because I ain’t have no ID. I couldn’t get my baby WIC [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children], without no ID. I couldn’t go to the food pantry without ID. It was hard.
“Without ID you are nobody. I was a ghost.”
Since getting her ID and regaining custody of her daughter, Sharday has also rented a place of her own.
“Life was hard without The Night Ministry. Now it’s still a little hard but I know I have a resource to be able to come back to.”
In addition to her role as Peer Outreach Professional, Sharday continues to advocate for youth struggling with housing instability, including advocating to expand the definition of homeless to include couchsurfing, and for increased services for young parents and mothers.
“If i’m not gonna do it, then who gon’ do it? So I’m gonna keep doing it. I feel like my voice is going to get heard.”