When Louis Blake found himself homeless at age 15, he made his way to a shelter that works with homeless teens, which in turn referred him to Children’s Home + Aid. Louis was initially served by the Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS) program, which provided support for teens who are homeless. Sadly, the program that provided such critical and lifesaving support for Louis and hundreds of other homeless teens was suspended in February 2016 in Englewood as a result of the Illinois budget crisis. Louis has also participated in a Children’s Home + Aid program called Project RISE that works with young men who have their first encounter with the criminal justice system, and the One Summer Chicago jobs program, funded by the City of Chicago.

Today Louis met with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Robin Kelly for a roundtable panel to discuss the importance of providing at-risk youth with opportunities. The panel took place before a press conference where Louis joined Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Kelly to introduce two pieces of federal legislation to address youth unemployment in high poverty areas. During the press conference, both Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Kelly emphasized the connection between out-of-work and out-of-school youth and violence. Senator Durbin noted, “The best anti-poverty, anti-crime, anti-violence program is a job.” Congresswoman Kelly stated, “I’m concerned about the undeniable link between unemployment and crime. The best way to stop a bullet is with a job.”

For at-risk youth, jobs provide more than a paycheck; they provide a sense of purpose, an opportunity to succeed and a pathway to a brighter future. The Helping to Encourage Real Opportunity (HERO) for At-Risk Youth Act would encourage the business community to become a partner in addressing this crisis by hiring at-risk youth that reside in communities with high rates of poverty. Senator Durbin and Congresswoman Kelly also introduced the Creating Pathways for Youth Employment Act, which will make it easier for local governments and community organizations to apply for federal funding to create and expand summer and year-round employment programs for young people.

Louis, who turns 18 in a few weeks, is a senior in high school and on track to graduate in June. He is back living with his mom and very much wants to attend college to become an engineer, but worries about how he will afford it. Louis works four days a week marketing a Chicago Drill team program, providing child care in the evenings for parents attending support groups on the South Side, and helping out as a mentor with the Project RISE program where he got his start.

Click here to read more about Louis and to donate to our programs for at-risk youth.