TEEN MOM’S LIFE LOOK­ING UP AF­TER SET­BACKS

Night Min­istry’s Crib youth shel­ter helped Kitty Perez es­cape a trou­bled past and work to­ward in­de­pen­dence

Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - NEIL STEIN­BERG nstein­berg@sun­times.com | @NeilStein­berg

Kitty Perez’s first name is a nick­name. Her birth name is “Kat­sumi,” and learn­ing that, a per­son might be for­given — I hope — for peer­ing closer at the eyes above the mask and ask­ing if she’s Ja­panese.

She’s not, she says, laugh­ing. Her fa­ther named her for a Ja­panese porn star.

“I was his first kid,” she ex­plains. “So ev­ery­thing was kinda weird.”

We are sit­ting in the brightly painted main room of the Crib, the Night Min­istry’s youth shel­ter that moved ear­lier this year from a church base­ment in Wrigleyvil­le to larger quar­ters at 1735 N. Ash­land Ave. in West Town. The Night Min­istry in­vited me to tour the new space and, so I didn’t visit an empty room, ar­ranged for me to talk with for­mer res­i­dents. Perez stood out.

“Right now, I’m sort of in the mid­dle of tran­si­tion over to an apart­ment,” says Perez, 19. “I’m also a mother. I have an al­most 2-year-old daugh­ter. She’ll be 2 in Novem­ber.”

And how has that been? “It’s been hard. I’m not go­ing to lie. My . . . well, I don’t call him my ‘part­ner’ at all. I call him my ‘sperm donor.’ Be­cause he left as soon as I told him. He bounced, com­pletely, to a dif­fer­ent state. It’s been hard, es­pe­cially dur­ing the pan­demic. I couldn’t find no di­a­pers any­where. I couldn’t find no wipes. Ev­ery­one just stocked up on ev­ery­thing; I couldn’t find any­thing.”

Then ear­lier this sum­mer she got COVID-19 and was sick from mid-June to mid-July.

“It was not fun,” she says. “I couldn’t be near my daugh­ter for a whole month. It was hor­ri­ble. I was up­set. I didn’t get to hug her when I sent her off to my god­mother’s place. She is ev­ery­thing to me. Lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing.”

Hav­ing a daugh­ter turned her life around. She stopped tak­ing drugs, she says, the mo­ment she

learned she was preg­nant.

“I wasn’t re­ally ready for a kid,” Perez says. “I was home­less when I found out I was preg­nant. Right then, I started home­hop­ping, to keep my­self un­der a roof the whole time I was preg­nant.”

Those with sta­ble lives like to blame peo­ple for caus­ing their own home­less­ness. That’s harder to do with Perez.

“I was born in Chicago and raised in Cicero, Cicero and 56th,” she says. “The house­hold was re­ally hor­ri­ble. My mother left three days be­fore my 10th birth­day. It was trau­ma­tiz­ing, at that age. Ev­ery­thing was re­ally blamed on me. That was the first time he kicked me out. He felt my mother left be­cause of me.”

Later she moved back with her dad.

“It was like tor­ture. We gained a lot of weight, be­cause he didn’t know how to cook. It was fast food, so­das. We were obese, all of us,” she says. “Me and my sis­ter were al­most 300 pounds.”

She was 10, maybe 11.

“We ac­tu­ally started teach­ing our­selves to cook,” says Perez. “We started los­ing weight slowly. I’m at 219, but I’m work­ing on los­ing weight.

“When I be­came 15 it be­came a big­ger sit­u­a­tion. There were re­ports to DCFS. He blamed me for it all. My mother came into the pic­ture again, only to start blam­ing me again. He kicked me out again, and I was home­less.”

The min­i­mum age for the Crib is 18, but Perez says a sym­pa­thetic staffer let her in any­way, which helped on her jour­ney to­ward in­de­pen­dence.

I ad­mired her tat­toos, lit­tle crosshatch­es and sim­ple crea­tures on her left arm.

“I did them my­self,” she says. “Most of them are from anime. This one is a Dragon Ball. The checker­boards are when the char­ac­ters get hurt.”

Most are on her left arm be­cause she is right-handed.

“The lit­tle cat one I didn’t do,” she says. “My best friend, who passed away in a shoot­ing I wit­nessed. I was 14 years old. I felt safe at the mo­ment. His mom was super nice to me. We did tat­toos on each other. It was my first tat­too. When I got it, my dad

. . . he was not OK with it. He ended up pulling out a knife and try­ing to get it out of my skin. He re­moved some of the ink.” Perez now has an apart­ment in Cicero. “It’s sorta safe,” she says. “I feel ac­com­plished, be­cause now I have some­where to keep my kid safe.”

None of this has kept Perez from hav­ing a plan and work­ing to­ward a fu­ture.

“I barely fin­ished ju­nior high,” she says. “But I’m go­ing back to school. Tru­man Col­lege is do­ing GED classes . . . . I grad­u­ated from HIV test­ing and coun­sel­ing. I’m able to help the com­mu­nity help­ing me.”

She has job in­ter­views com­ing up. “I’m do­ing great,” she says. “I’m not go­ing to lie. I’m do­ing great.”

We fin­ish our con­ver­sa­tion and, ris­ing to go, I re­al­ize I’d for­got­ten to ask some­thing: Her daugh­ter — what is her name? “Xo­chitl,” Perez says.

“A beau­ti­ful name,” I say. Aztec for “flower.”

“My fa­ther named her,” she replies. “Af­ter one of my grand­par­ents.”

Progress.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Kat­sumi “Kitty” Perez, 19, with her daugh­ter Xo­chitl, 2, at War­ren Park. Perez, who has been home­less, re­ceived help from The Night Min­istry.

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Xo­chitl, 2, gives a leaf to her mom, Kat­sumi “Kitty” Perez, 19, at War­ren Park.

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