Homeless in Chicago: Exceptional Teen Graduates with Honors with Support from Counselor and Family
Teen Homelessness Big Problem in Chicago
At the complicated age of fourteen, when many girls are learning to live with their mothers, Chicago native Shannon Hastings was learning to live without hers.
Denise Hastings, 40, had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, when on the day of Shannon’s 8th grade graduation, she suffered a seizure from which she never recovered.
“My mom was always the person who said ‘education first,’” Shannon said. “Her memory, her smile, I keep it in the back of my mind. It keeps me on track.”
Because of that solid foundation, the help of relatives, and the invaluable tutelage of her guidance counselor, Shannon graduated this year as an inductee of the National Honor Society.
“My living situation was a struggle,” Shannon said. “I didn’t let it affect my school. I would come to school with a happy face like nothing was going on.”
Sadly, Shannon’s story is not unique.
According to The Chicago Tribune, of the 680 students at Shannon’s school, Hope College Preparatory High, 100 of them are homeless.
In January of 2011, The Tribune also reported on an 18-year-old Bolingbrook High School student who stayed at a group home with her brother. Forty other students at the school were also classified as homeless.
Contrice Kendall, the guidance counselor at Shannon’s high school, befriended the troubled teen and empathized with her in a way that not many people could comprehend. Kendall’s father died when she was 14-years-old, and her mom was murdered when she was 18-years-old.
“With the cards she was dealt, it could easily have destroyed her goals and brought lack of motivation,” said Kendall. “Instead, it actually increased it.”
The staggering statistics surrounding homelessness makes Shannon’s success even more exceptional. According to The National Center For Family Homelessness, 74% of homeless children worry about not having a place to live; homeless children are physically abused at twice the rate of other children, and sexually abused at three times the rate as other children.
Even with the Chicago Public Schools providing Homeless Liaisons, who provide assistance and information for homeless children, the fact remains that with over 15,000 children being considered homeless in Chicago throughout the year, and with only 119 beds available to them in state shelters, it is clear that Shannon had to overcome insurmountable odds to attain her hard earned success.
“I know where I’m going in life,” Shannon said. “Once I get an education, it will take me wherever I want to go. I’m doing all this for my mom because I know that’s what she would’ve wanted.”
In the fall, Shannon will attend the University of Illinois at Chicago on a $20,000 Dell scholarship - awarded to at-risk students who show academic promise.