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Wicker Park, Bucktown, West Town

Bucktown Residents Divided On Future Teen Homeless Shelter, But The Crib Vows To Be A Good Neighbor

One resident was applauded when he asked: "You’ve searched for two years, and you couldn’t find a space that isn't a stone’s throw from an elementary school?"

Resident Gene Pierson addresses The Night Ministry leaders at a community meeting in Bucktown. The crowd included a mix of residents who spoke out in support and in opposition of a plan to relocate The Crib, an overnight youth homeless shelter, to the neighborhood.
Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
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BUCKTOWN — The Night Ministry is moving forward with plans to move an overnight shelter that supports LGBTQ youth to the Wicker Park/Bucktown border — but neighbors came out in force Wednesday night to voice their concerns about the move.

The cigarette-scented front room of the American Legion FDR Post 923 at 1824 W. Cortland St. was packed wall-to-wall with dozens of residents, squeezed into rows of folding beige chairs.

Once again, The Night Ministry was there to address a mixed crowd of supporters, skeptical parents and some people who flat-out opposed the shelter.

But unlike the most recent meeting, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Sgt. Adam Henkels of the Shakespeare police district were there to facilitate.

Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
The American Legion in Bucktown was standing-room-only during a meeting where residents spoke out in support and in opposition of The Night Ministry’s plans to relocate an overnight youth homeless shelter to the neighborhood.

The nonprofit has already signed a 10-year lease to move into the bottom three floors of the vacant commercial building of a site that is sandwiched between the Kennedy Expy. and Walsh Park. (As several neighbors pointed out, it’s also near Jonathan Burr Elementary School.)

In a question to The Crib’s leaders, parent James Walsh echoed the sentiments of several parents who — in any other neighborhood — say they likely would have supported the idea of a youth homeless shelter.

“I think everybody in this room thinks the Night Ministry does amazing work,” he said. “(But) you’ve searched for two years, and you couldn’t find a space that isn’t a stone’s throw from an elementary school? And a stone’s throw from a kid’s park? … I’m not trying to be a NIMBY alarmist in this situation. I’m really not. But it seems like it’s right on top of it.”

Some members of the crowd clapped as Walsh went on to press The Night Ministry leaders on logistics.

When will the kids show up? When will they leave the neighborhood? What role will police officers in the 14th District — which is understaffed as-is, residents said — play in ensuring the safety of the homeless youth and the children of Bucktown?

Jenny Merritt, a leader with The Night Ministry, nodded her head with sympathy as Walsh spoke. She thanked the crowd for the opportunity to speak. Then she talked about the kids who rely on The Crib.

“They come here seeking a safe space,” she said. “We look at this program as something that should not disrupt your day-to-day life.”

Not everyone was as cordial. Tension became palpable as names were called and epithets were slung.

At one point, a man yelled out that he didn’t want to see any more “brown people” sleeping in public parks.

The comment elicited a visceral response from most members of the crowd.

Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) facilitated a community meeting at The American Legion in Bucktown, where residents spoke out in support and in opposition of The Night Ministry’s plans to relocate an overnight youth homeless shelter to the neighborhood.

“My kids are half-brown!” a woman yelled.

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 residents pleaded with The Night Ministry to stop The Crib’s move to the neighborhood.

Mitch Hutton said he went to Lakeview with his wife, where current neighbors of The Crib told him that the shelter has increased crime in the area.

“If you think you’re kids are gonna be safe, you’re thinking wrong,” he said. “They’re not gonna be safe. … We deal with that soup kitchen all the time. … They do the exact same thing.”

“Then move to the suburbs!” a woman yelled.

“Alright, alright,” Sgt. Henkels interjected.

Carrie Hogan lives on North Paulina Street and is a board member for The Night Ministry. She said she wished her neighbors could appreciate the work the shelter does to rehabilitate homeless youth.

“This isn’t a flop house, guys. We try to help them get jobs and skills,” she said. “Before you indict what’s happening there, do a little bit of research into how many people we’ve helped, and the services we provide to the kids. And but for the grace of god, those of you who have children, I hope they never (become homeless.)”

Barbara Bolsen, vice president of strategic partnerships at The Night Ministry, told residents the nonprofit’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.

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.

The search for a new location for The Crib coincided with an additional search for a new set of administrative offices, which need to accommodate The Night Ministry’s 68 staffers. The nonprofit also need to find a permanent home for the bus it uses to get folks to school or work.

The Bucktown location will be able to accommodate the administrative offices, medical outreach offices and a vastly expanded shelter quarters. A parking lot will be used to park the bus.

Waguespack reminded residents over and over The Crib isn’t a done deal.

Before it can open at 1735 N. Ashland Ave., the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals must review the group’s application for a special use permit — a document that will allow the nonprofit to operate the shelter.

The application will be reviewed by the board on March 15 in City Hall.

“When it come to the Zoning Board of Appeals, it is a distinct body. … I do not have any authority to vote on it, period,” the alderman said. “This isn’t some kind of Ed Burke-Burger King thing.”

Even though he does not have a say in the special use permit the organization needs to move to the space, Waguespack pledged to work with the Chicago Police Department’s 14th District and attorneys from the city and The Night Ministry to draft a plan of procedure.

This document, he said, could potentially shut the shelter down in the event that it does not comply with predetermined rules.

The alderman said he hoped this document would be finalized by the March 15 meeting.

About the shelter

Those who stay at The Crib 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.

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.

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.

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