'We were shocked': $3 million in federal funding secured for LGBTQ-focused 360 Youth Services
U.S. Reps. Sean Casten and Bill Foster say Naperville-based 360 Youth Services will receive $3 million in federal funding to help buy or build a facility for homeless and at-risk 18- to 24-year-olds.
The congressmen made the announcement Tuesday at the 360 Youth Services main office in Naperville, where organization leaders talked about the importance of the funding and how it will be used to further their mission of combating youth homelessness and providing various levels of support.
The need is particularly strong with LGBTQ+ and minority youths, organization leaders said. 360 Youth Services is one of two major LGBTQ+ homeless and at-risk youth housing organizations in Illinois.
"Giving people a little love at that vulnerable point in their life," Casten said, "giving them a little bit of housing, giving them a little bit of security makes all the difference in the world. It makes all the difference in life."
Dawn Melchiorre, the interim executive director for 360 Youth Services, said the money offers the organization an opportunity to jump-start an expanded housing plan that's been in the works. She said the entire cost of a new housing facility is unknown because it's unclear whether they'll build or buy an existing structure, but the estimate is between $6 million and $8 million.
"It's a huge first step for us," Melchiorre said. "We were shocked when the three million came. It was a pipe dream of all of us to be able to get that phone call. So when we did, we were over the moon, and now we're ready to go and to get this project off the ground."
Valerie Tawrel, the 360 Youth Services director of housing, said the organization currently has housing available for 15 people from rooms they rent through hotels, but there's a waiting list. She said the need to help at-risk youths has risen rapidly, especially since the pandemic.
According to Precious Bradley, the 360 Youth Services program manager, they've already assisted 37 individuals this year compared to 34 during all of 2021. In addition to housing, 360 Youth Services offers mental and physical health support, helps with job searches and assists in many other areas of need.
Melchiorre said 360 Youth Services expects to pinpoint a location and submit plans for the new housing facility sometime in the next six months or a year.
"One of our main duties as elected members of Congress is to try to repair some of the holes in the safety net in our society," Foster said. "Unfortunately, many LGBTQ+ youth are missing the main safety net that so many of us depend on."