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Englewood, Chatham

Long-Vacant Building Being Transformed Into Queer-Friendly Center For South Side Homeless Youth

The Lyte Lounge will give youth who are homeless their own storage units, a place to take a shower and wash their clothes, and so much more.

A Greater Grand Crossing building that once housed the Black Methodist for Church Renewal is being transformed into the Lyte Lounge, a youth center and community hub.
Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

GREATER GRAND CROSSING — A building once part of one of the community’s oldest churches will soon become one of the only holistic, queer-friendly centers for at-risk youth in the city.

The Lyte Collective, a group social service professionals who work with teens and young adults facing poverty and homelessness, is transforming the former site of the Black Methodist for Church Renewal, 549 E. 76th St., into the Lyte Lounge, a community hub that will offer comprehensive resources to kids in need. The center is set to open in the summer 2020.

“There are very few spaces for young people across the city already, and for LGBTQ youth in particular, and we wanted to plant the flag and say that this is where everyone’s welcome,” founding member Carl Wiley said. “We’re all going to respect each other in here, and we’re all going to figure out what our next steps are in terms of housing, employment, therapy.”

According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, more than 16,000 youth in the city are homeless, with 88 percent of them living “doubled-up,” often staying with friends or other non-relatives. And about 30 percent of Chicagoans ages of 15 and 24 live below the poverty line, with the bulk of them living on the South and West sides.

The second floor of Lyte Lounge will include a recording studio.

That’s why the group is opening the center in the heart of the city’s South Side, Wiley said.

When it opens, the Lyte Lounge will include a music studio, an art studio, a gym, computer lab, performance stage, teaching kitchen, coworking space, an on-site clinic and 250 storage units. Youth will be able to keep important items in those storage unit, use the laundry room to keep their clothes clean and take a shower if they need. While the Lyte Lounge won’t be open overnight, it will give youth in need a place to go during the day, Wiley said.

Neighborhood organizations will be able to host meetings there, too.

“It’s not enough to just give them a place to hang out,” Wiley said. “They need something to do, someone to talk to. We wanted to provide them a space where they could explore the things they were interested in.”

A rendering shows what the Lyte Lounge will look like when it is finished.

For he and other members of the collective, the Lyte Lounge will be a dream realized.

A rendering shows what the new Lyte Lounge will look like.

“It looks vastly different than what it did a few weeks ago,” said Wiley as he took Block Club on a tour of the facility. “The progress is breathtaking.”

Construction began a several weeks ago with The Bowa Group, a black-owned firm, and DAAM, LLC handling the renovations.

The crew has torn down the walls of the two-story building with the Jetsons-like tower, something that was considered futuristic when it was built in the ’60s. The church itself has stood since 1926. When the congregation moved further south to 79th Street in the late aughts, the 12,000-square-foot space remained empty for years, the owners refusing to sell until they found a worthy buyer.

Jerome Davis stands in what will be the center’s gym. He’s taken care of the building as it’s fallen into disrepair in recent years.

Neighbors are helping with the project, too. Jerome Davis, who lives across the street, watched the building deteriorate for decades and tended its overgrown yard in an effort to “keep the neighborhood looking good.” He’s come out of retirement to help the building find new life.

“God gave me this building to take care of. It may not be mine, but it will be beautiful,” he said.

The Lyte Collective members knew they wanted to open the center in Greater Grand Crossing, and with Ald. Rod Sawyer’s (6th) help, they were eventually able to secure the building.

“The alderman told us that he and the community had wanted something like this for a long time,” recalled Wiley. “He was one of our first supporters.”

Some of the 250 units of storage space will be built above the gym, according to Lyte Collective founding member Carl Wiley.

Then there was the matter of funding. Two years ago the collective launched a campaign to raise $2 million to cover renovations, estimated to cost $1 million, and the first two years of operating costs. The Knight Family Foundation lent their support with a $500,000 challenge grant, and soon other organizations pledged grants, including the Chicago Community Trust, the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Chicago Youth Storage Initiative, and the Alvin H. Baum Fund. Recently, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation donated $450,000, too.

Still the group is still $340,000 short of their total goal. People interested in supporting the Lyte Collective’s Lyte Lounge can donate here.

A Chicago Public Schools graduate, Willey knows firsthand how life-changing a helping hand can be. The people who helped him in his formative years influenced his decision to become a social worker.

Now, he hopes the new center will offer the same life-changing help to youth who need it.

“This is a place where they can find support,” Wiley said.

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