WICKER PARK — After another tense evening of back-and-forth between The Night Ministry leaders and residents, members of a Wicker Park community group narrowly voted to support The Crib, an overnight youth shelter that plans to move from Lakeview to Wicker Park.
Even though The Crib’s planned new home at 1735 N. Ashland Ave. falls within the Noble Square neighborhood, the Wicker Park Committee reviews and votes on developments at the request of the Noble Square Neighbors Association, said Leah Root, the committee’s communications director.
This was the first time Root could recall the committee voting on a homeless shelter.
“I was surprised that so many voted ‘no,’” she said.
Of the 22 committee members who voted, eight voted “no.” Nine voted “yes,” while three voted “yes” under the condition that The Night Ministry signs a legally-binding plan of operation. Two people abstained.
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s meeting, The Night Ministry leaders have met with residents to defend The Crib in two different public meetings and a handful of one-on-one meetings in bars and coffee shops.
The results of these meetings have been a divided neighborhood. Many residents worried about the safety of their children. Some were angry about what they saw as a lack of transparency on the part of The Night Ministry. Others vehemently supported the shelter.
The Night Ministry has already signed a 10-year lease to occupy the bottom three floors of a commercial building site that is sandwiched between the Kennedy Expy. and Walsh Park. (The site is also adjacent to Jonathan Burr Elementary School).
But nothing is a done deal. The nonprofit must secure a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals to convert the first floor of the building into an overnight shelter.
At a public meeting on March 15, the zoning board will review The Crib’s application and listen to public input.
The Crib opened in 2011 in a church basement in Lakeview. It has cited space constraints as the reason for its move.
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 have pleaded with The Night Ministry to stop The Crib’s move to the neighborhood.
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.
On Wednesday night, Night Ministry leaders Barbara Bolsen and Jenny Merritt addressed yet another crowd of impassioned residents inside the Wicker Park Field House.
The discussion began tempered and diplomatic, with a similar cast of neighbors repeating the same ideas and concerns from earlier meetings.
Tensions flared, however, as a new batch of residents confronted The Night Ministry for the first time.
A man asked why The Night Ministry didn’t consult the community back in September, when it settled on Wicker Park/Bucktown as a neighborhood of interest.
“I agree,” Merritt said.
“That could have been a good idea,” Bolsen added.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) is working with the city’s legal team and The Night Ministry’s attorney to draft a plan of operation — a document that would essentially act as a rules of the road that The Night Ministry would be required to follow once The Crib is up and running.
Such a document could lead to The Crib’s closure, Waguespack said, if The Night Ministry fails to comply.
Alan Ericksen, 44, grew up in Bucktown and played basketball at Walsh Park as a kid. He said Waguespack’s idea to create a plan of operation was worthless, because it would not change anything “until the damage is done.”
Christine Hutton lives in Bucktown, near The Crib’s planned location. She was concerned that local police in the Shakespeare district — “already understaffed,” she said — would not be able to adequately respond to reports of crime related to The Crib.
The district’s headquarters is located at 2150 N. California Ave. — two miles away from Walsh Park.
“We don’t get enough coverage on a good day,” Hutton said.
Concerned for the safety of the neighborhood’s children, Ericksen visited The Crib’s current Lakeview location two weeks ago. At 9 a.m., he said the duo saw several guests leave the shelter. By 11:45 a.m., he said, they were still “wandering around” the neighborhood.
Ericksen has also researched a number of crime reports, in which he said felons have listed The Crib as their address. During recent public meetings Ericksen has repeatedly shared this information.
Merritt acknowledges that, no, the shelter cannot force its clients to leave at 9 a.m.
And it’s possible, she has said, that a homeless person who has stayed at The Crib may cite the shelter as a permanent address in legal paperwork.
She has tried to assure residents that if a client breaks a rule at The Crib (if they decide to leave at 2 a.m., for example), they are no longer welcome back. Such an occurrence is very rare, she said.
“They come here seeking a safe space,” she has said. “We look at this program as something that should not disrupt your day-to-day life.”
About The Crib
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.
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.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.