Chicago Youth Storage Initiative

Far from being a trivial issue, youth experiencing homelessness have identified solving the storage problems as one of the most important ways to alleviate day-to-day suffering, improve the quality of life for individuals in unpredictable and temporary living situations, and support short-and long-term goal setting towards stable housing.



The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative seeks to improve the lives of young people experiencing homelessness through the provision of physical and virtual storage access options that serve a wide range of experiences and needs. This is achieved through collaboration, coordination, and technical assistance and includes strategic partnerships, launching and/or assisting programs with the implementation of storage programs, evaluation, and educating communities about youth homelessness.

In the next two years, we aim to enhance existing housing and basic needs services and programs with more than ten different storage programs across the Chicagoland area. By the end of 2017, the CYSI citywide network will serve as an access point to engage and support more than 2,000 unique youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

What solutions exist?

Young people need multiple storage options to choose from, knowing that as they and their circumstances change, their needs and priorities may also change. Solutions include:

  • secure storage units at overnight youth shelters, drop-in centers, and schools

  • daily/overnight storage access with phone charging capabilities

  • portable safes

  • virtual or cloud-based document storage

  • systematizing and strengthening mail and document storage programs

These options range from piloting small-scale storage initiatives within existing organizations to introducing a stand-alone, satellite storage facility in close proximity to basic needs services such as laundry, showers, and case management.

Who do we partner with?

We are a funder collaborative with leadership from Crossroads Fund, Pierce Family Foundation, Knight Family Foundation, Polk Bros Foundation, and Windy City Times. We partner with libraries, schools, youth organizations, housing programs, and social service programs. CYSI is housed at the Crossroads Fund, which serves as the fiscal manager and provides other support.

Why is storage access such a big deal?

For young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, access to safe and secure storage options for personal belongings—such as clothing, school books, keepsakes, and legal documents—is a daily, often hourly, stressor. In the absence of stable housing, these possessions—including those necessary for housing, employment, and educational opportunities—are in constant danger of being lost, stolen, discarded, or damaged. Left with unreliable or infrequent options, young people hide their personal belongings in alleys, dumpsters, yards, under porches, in abandoned buildings, and bushes. The loss of certain items, which inevitably result from this type of high-risk storage, come with long-term, enduring consequences.

The traumas of homelessness are exacerbated by the lack of safe, secure, and accessible storage options. Youth suffering from the loss of personal belongings find themselves that much further delayed in obtaining and securing resources. These delays leave unstably housed young people more vulnerable and may serve to increase the length of homelessness and its associated traumas. For example, the loss of legal documentation—such as state identification or a social security card—can delay admission to housing programs, extend wait times to healthcare benefit enrollment, impact timely access to food stamps, preclude enrollment in education programs, and thwart new employment opportunities.

Does Chicago have storage programs?

Currently, storage access for individuals and families experiencing homelessness is extremely limited in Chicago. In the U.S., no models of community-coordinated or citywide efforts exist to support young people around storage of personal belongings. Chicago will be the first U.S. city to coordinate such an effort for young people. 

Want to learn more about this issue?

We conducted a comprehensive, youth-driven research process and released our findings in May 2015. The implementation of several different, concurrently operating storage strategies was recommended—across all regions of Chicago—to help young people with a spectrum of storage needs that may change over time.

Read about our findings and recommendations.


The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative (CYSI), a group of service providers, funders, advocates, and young people committed to creatively addressing storage issues for young people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, emerged in response to the Windy City Times 2014 Chicago Summit on LGBT Homelessness. A shared concern and need for storage of personal belongings emerged in strategy sessions about housing, policy, healthcare, legal issues, and access to basic needs.

In 2011, the Chicago Planning Council on Homelessness—in partnership with the City of Chicago and All Chicago—launched a process to redevelop Chicago’s Plan to End Homelessness. Plan 2.0: A Home for Everyone emerged. One of Plan 2.0’s priorities, youth homelessness, seeks to create a “comprehensive, developmentally appropriate menu of services for youth who experience homelessness.” The recommendations include development and expansion of youth housing and drop-in centers across all regions of Chicago; improving crisis intervention and family mediation services; working with systems; conducting annual counts of youth experiencing homelessness; and implementing best practice service models.

The Chicago Youth Storage Initiative aims to enhance Plan 2.0’s goal of creating a diverse range of programs that strengthens Chicago’s continuum of services for young people experiencing homelessness. Storage of personal belongings connects to the success of other Plan 2.0 strategic priorities—such as access to stable and affordable housing and employment—while also supporting collaboration with and between many of the systems that touch young people experiencing homelessness. 

With founding support from the Pierce Family Foundation, Polk Bros Foundation, Knight Family Foundation, and Windy City Times, the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative (CYSI) took shape in early 2015.

I'm in. How can I support this project?

  • Donations make it possible to partner with more sites and provide even more storage access points across the Chicagoland area. Crossroads Fund accepts donations on our behalf.

  • Follow us on Facebook.

  • Share the report.
  • Spread the word to young people.


To designate your gift toward the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative, please indicate so in the comments section.