BUCKTOWN — After eight years in a Lakeview church basement, The Night Ministry plans to move its overnight youth homeless shelter, The Crib, to the Bucktown/Wicker Park border — but the plan has been met with serious opposition from the shelter’s new neighbors.
Contending that the homeless shelter has a history of being “bad neighbors” to Lakeview families and pointing to a 2013 SWAT team response, some Bucktown parents pleaded with The Night Ministry leaders and Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) to stop The Crib’s move to the neighborhood.
The nonprofit has leased three floors of a building at 1735 N. Ashland Ave., a site sandwiched between the Kennedy Expy. and Walsh Park. The new site is located a block north of Jonathan Burr Elementary School.
At a meeting Wednesday, Bucktown parents and residents packed slim cafeteria tables in the basement of the Jonathan Burr Elementary. Many had only learned of The Crib’s relocation plans hours beforehand, and rushed to make the 4 p.m. meeting, which became heated at times.
Barbara Bolsen, vice president of strategic partnerships at The Night Ministry, said the nonprofit wants to work with the community and listen to their concerns. The Crib’s primary reason for leaving Lakeview is logistical — the shelter has outgrown its current location, a one-room basement with 21 mattresses on the floor at LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St., she said.
Addressing concerns about crime, she said The Crib’s current digs are surrounded by nightclubs, bars and other entertainment venues in Boystown — factors the city’s Department of Family Services have said drive the neighborhood’s crime rate. Bolsen said The Crib has a strong relationship with Lakeview residents — there’s even a neighborhood letter of recommendation to prove it.
The Crib’s guests are between the ages of 18 and 24 and many identify as LGBTQ — not the “homeless stereotype” some Bucktown residents might have in mind, Bolsen said.
“We want to prevent them from becoming chronically homeless,” she said. “Our goal is to catch them and protect them.”
But Mitch Hutton, who has lived Bucktown since 1988, said the neighborhood’s soup kitchen has invited more people who are homeless to the area. They sleep in parks, steal from homes, smoke marijuana and urinate in public, he said.
He worried The Crib would endanger Bucktown children by bringing more of the same.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s unpredictable,” he said. “You’re not good neighbors. We need people who are good neighbors.”
Bolsen said Hutton’s characterization of people facing homelessness was unfair and inaccurately portrayed the young people The Night Ministry serves. Answering a question from a neighbor, she said the shelter does not permit registered sex offenders to stay there.
“We know our kids,” she said.
Some residents weren’t against the idea of the shelter moving in, but bemoaned what they saw as a lack of transparency in the process.
Chris Ruder, a Bucktown father of three, implored his neighbors to view The Crib as an opportunity for the neighborhood to help a nonprofit flourish.
“We’re assuming everybody’s a criminal,” he said. “We’re talking about ‘us versus them.’ How can we make this a ‘we’?”
Sophia Srivastava, 12, also spoke in support of the shelter.
“I’m just a child … I’ve had homeless people in my home before … And I believe people are innately good,” she said.
The Night Ministry leased its Wicker Park location before consulting with the community, Waguespack said. If asked for his advice, the alderman would have recommended they told the community first, he told Block Club Chicago.
It’s perfectly legal to lease a building without the consent of neighbors, he said. But that doesn’t mean the shelter’s move will be successful — or welcomed.
Before The Crib can call the Wicker Park/Bucktown area home, it needs to acquire a special use permit from the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Waguespack encouraged residents to voice their concerns to the Zoning Board at the next meeting, which is March 15.
The alderman said his office will also schedule a public meeting between The Night Ministry and Bucktown residents after Election Day Tuesday.
If approved, the proposed site will have room for a heated waiting area, a separate sleeping area with beds and a counseling area on the first floor. Administrative and medical outreach offices will occupy the second and third floors.
A parking lot will allow the shelter’s staffers to have easy access to their bus, which they use to drive guests to work, school and public transit stops at 9 a.m. each day.
An essential safety net
The Night Ministry has a long history of assisting Chicagoans who need help, Bolsen told neighbors Wednesday.
In August 2017, a 21-year-old woman knocked on the door of The Crib.
She had aged out of a housing program for homeless youth. She had been sleeping in cars on the Red and Blue Line trains. And she was pregnant.
The Night Ministry housed the woman for four months and helped her find her own apartment. She moved out of The Crib in January 2018 and gave birth to twins that spring.
Burke Patten, the nonprofit’s senior associate of communications, said that’s just one of many examples of young people The Night Ministry has saved from a potential lifetime of chronic homelessness.
The shelter opens at 9 p.m. and closes at 9 a.m. During the last quarter of last year, the shelter housed an average of 15 young adults who are homeless per night.
Its current location has room for 21 guests. The Bucktown location would house the same. The average person stays in the shelter for 27 nights, Bolsen said.
The Crib employs social workers and case managers trained in crisis intervention to staff the shelter from 7 p.m.-10 a.m.
When guests leave at 9 a.m., some go to work or school. Many travel to Lakeview, where they participate in daytime career and social services programs, Bolsen said.
The next community meeting to discuss the shelter is at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at the American Legion FDR Post 923, 1824 W. Cortland St., according to an email sent to residents of the 32nd Ward.
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