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. Credit: Hannah Alani/Block Club Chicago

BUCKTOWN — The Crib, an LGBTQ-friendly overnight youth homeless shelter that has divided Bucktown residents and community leaders, has been given the green light to open its doors at 1735 N. Ashland Ave.

In a unanimous vote late Friday, the Zoning Board of Appeals’ four members in attendance approved The Night Ministry’s application for a special use permit to open The Crib.

The vote was preceded by about three hours of public comment, city spokesperson Kevin Bargnes said.

The new site is sandwiched between the Kennedy Expy. and Walsh Park and is adjacent to Jonathan Burr Elementary School — just outside the northeast corner of Wicker Park (where the neighborhood meets Noble Square and greater Bucktown).

The Night Ministry expects to open The Crib sometime before the end of the year, spokesperson Burke Patten said.

At a string of contentious community meetings, Barbara Bolsen, vice president of strategic partnerships at The Night Ministry, told Bucktown residents The Crib had outgrown its current location — a one-room basement with 21 mattresses on the floor at LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St.

The nonprofit also needed more space for its overcrowded offices in Ravenswood, she said.

After a two-year search across Chicago’s competitive commercial real estate market, The Night Ministry made what Bolsen said was a hard decision to leave Lakeview — a neighborhood with many LGBTQ services — and sign a 10-year lease in Bucktown.

The new site, Bolsen said, will serve the following functions:

  • The Crib will operate a shelter, bathrooms, counseling areas and a heated lobby on the first floor of the commercial site from 9 p.m.-9 a.m. (The Crib is staffed 7 p.m.-10 a.m.)
  • The Night Ministry’s administrative and medical outreach offices will occupy the second and third floors of the site.
  • A bus will be parked in the lot attached to the building. This vehicle is used to provide The Crib’s residents with early morning transportation to nearby Chicago Transit Authority stops.

Many residents who live just beyond Ashland Avenue and have children who play at Walsh Park or attend Jonathan Burr were upset last month when they learned of the shelter’s plans — either in chatter in neighborhood Facebook groups or during packed community meetings.

A divided group of Bucktown residents made their opinions known to each other and to leaders of The Night Ministry during public meetings facilitated by the Local School Corporation, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and the Wicker Park Committee.

Contending that the homeless shelter has a history of being “bad neighbors” to Lakeview families and pointing to a 2013 SWAT team response, some pleaded with The Night Ministry to stop The Crib’s move to the neighborhood.

Others demanded empathy from their neighbors as they discussed the population The Crib intends to help — 18-24-year-old homeless youth, many who identify as LGBTQ.

Many parents, like James Walsh, fell somewhere in the middle.

In any other location, they said, 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,” Walsh 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.”

During these public meetings, Bolsen, the vice president of strategic partnerships at The Night Ministry, reminded residents the nonprofit’s primary reason for leaving Lakeview was logistical.

With regard to safety concerns, she told residents that 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 shelter has a full-time staff of social workers who are trained in crisis intervention. They work from 7 p.m.-10 a.m.

Residents check in at 9 p.m. after reserving a bed through a smart phone app. At 9 a.m., The Crib transports residents to the nearest CTA train stop.

Most head to work, school or social services programming in Lakeview, Bolsen said.

This information didn’t stop several members of the Wicker Park Committee, a neighborhood community group, from opposing the shelter.

Of the 22 Wicker Park Committee members who participated in a group vote on the matter, 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.

Waguespack had been working with the city’s legal department and The Night Ministry’s attorneys to draft a legally-binding plan of operation, similar in nature to community agreements with bars or late night restaurants.

The document, Waguespack said, 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 if The Night Ministry fails to comply.

Waguespack had hoped the plan of operation would be part of The Night Ministry’s application for the special use permit. But as of 8:30 p.m. Friday — after the board voted on the matter — the document was still undergoing revisions.

As of Monday morning, Waguespack’s office had yet to provide Block Club Chicago with a copy of the document. 

What is the Zoning Board of Appeals?

The Zoning Board of Appeals is a group appointed by the mayor, independent from aldermanic prerogative, designed to make decisions regarding matters that could be inherently political.

It’s the members of the Zoning Board — not the alderman — who vote to approve or deny special use permits to religious institutions.

For example, Waguespack explained, aldermen do not have the power to approve or deny a mosque’s move to their ward.

Good Neighbor Agreement w A… by on Scribd

Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Twitter @hannahalani