WARNING: This article contains descriptions of depression and suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The NAMI Chicago helpline is 833-626-4244. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911.
BUCKTOWN — After years of planning, The Crib has finally moved from Lakeview to Bucktown, providing emergency housing and case management for young Chicagoans — many of whom identify as LGBTQ and the majority of whom are Black.
Operated by The Night Ministry, The Crib occupies the entire ground floor of a large industrial building at 1735 N. Ashland Ave. While some neighbors didn’t support the shelter’s move into the neighborhood, those staying there said they’re incredibly grateful for the roof over their heads.
“Harper,” a 20-year-old transgender woman for whom Block Club is using a pseudonym, lived at the shelter for four months last year after being kicked out of her parents’ home. She said she hopes Bucktown neighbors who opposed the shelter will change their minds.
“The Crib is an important place and it needs to exist,” she said. “We are people who are just trying to survive. We have no intention of hurting your children. That is not anything on anyone’s mind. Everyone there is just trying to get their own lives in motion.”
Over the course of several community meetings last year, a handful of Bucktown residents urged The Night Ministry to stop The Crib’s move to the neighborhood, contending the shelter had a history of being “bad neighbors” in Lakeview.
In response, Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) worked with The Night Ministry to draft a legally binding “plan of operation,” a document that requires The Crib follow a list of rules and protocols.
The Night Ministry signed a 10-year lease at the Bucktown building.
In Lakeview, the shelter consisted of one room with 21 mattresses on the floor and one bathroom.
The newly designed shelter has a lobby, gender-neutral showers and restrooms, lockers, a large room with dorm-style rows of bunk beds, another large room with a movie projector, desks and chairs, a computer room and a room for private conversations with staff.
“What the new Crib provides is a sense of security,” Harper said. “It’s newer, cleaner. It still feels very much like a port in the storm. It still feels like a home, even if temporary.”
‘A Story We’ve Heard A Thousand Times’
The Crib, which serves people aged 18-24 and is LGBTQ-affirming, is a place where national statistics manifest into real people with names, faces and stories.
People who identify as LGBTQ are at a greater risk of experiencing homelessness than their straight or cisgender peers, and the disparities are even greater for people of color.
During the most recent year, 53 percent of The Crib’s guests identified as LGBTQ, said Night Ministry spokesperson Burke Patten.
From July 2019 to June 2020, 72 percent of The Crib’s guests identified as Black or African American. Less than a quarter identified as white while 7 percent identified as multi-racial and 2 percent identified as Native American.
For Harper, these statistics came to life each night she spent at The Crib.
“It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times,” she said. “A person comes out, thinking they’re gonna be safe with their family. And they’re not. … I met multiple Black trans women who [were homeless] because their family had not been accepting.”
For Harper, who is white, that wasn’t necessarily the case. Her family initially accepted her coming out and supported her transition. After Harper started college in 2018, things changed.
While at school, Harper experienced severe depression, which led her to drop out. She moved back in with her family. Her recovery wasn’t as fast as what her parents wanted, she said, and the following February, she was given an ultimatum: check into a psych ward or move out.
“These stories are nuanced. My story is not, ‘I came out, and therefore my parents hate me,’” she said. “They held very masculine expectations for me, traditionally gendered expectations. ‘You’re being overly emotional. You had a problem; get back on the horse. Start getting your life together.’ I don’t think those expectations would have been placed on me if I were cis.”
Harper left her parents’ home in early March. She initially spent a few nights in 24-hour restaurants. She stayed with a friend from college for a few nights.
After several days of not hearing from her parents, Harper felt suicidal urges. She made the difficult decision to check into a short-term psychiatric ward. There, she learned about The Crib.
Harper checked into the Lakeview shelter and, after a few nights, felt comfortable enough to play her guitar and talk to other guests.
“If the Night Ministry hadn’t been around, I would probably not be around anymore,” she said.
The Crib can safely house up to 21 guests with social distancing, Patten said. Since relocating to Bucktown — a change that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic — The Crib serves an average of 18 guests per night.
When Gov. JB Pritzker enacted the stay at home order, The Crib became a 24/7 shelter, providing three meals daily and daytime programming, Patten said.
Unlike the Lakeview location, the Bucktown shelter has an indoor lobby where guests can hang out while waiting to check in or waiting to attend a community meeting.
Guests use an app called Streetlight to check in and reserve a bed. Check-in officially begins at 8:45 p.m. and guests are admitted to the building at 9 p.m.
Once inside, guests are assigned a locker to store their belongings as well as a bunk bed that is 6 feet from the closest bed. They can shower, use the bathroom, watch movies, play games, use a computer or have conversations with The Night Ministry’s youth outreach staff.
All guests at The Crib are offered a relationship with a case manager who can connect them with long-term housing options, employment, mental heath services and other resources.
At least three adults are always staffed at The Crib during the course of the night.
At 9 a.m., staffers take residents to the nearest CTA train stop. Most head to work, school or social services programming in Lakeview, Barbara Bolsen, vice president of strategic partnerships at The Night Ministry, told neighbors last year.
The Bucktown location is centrally located for guests of The Crib as well as for The Night Ministry’s various outreach services, which include medical and health buses that travel everywhere between South Shore and Rogers Park.
“We’re excited to be in the neighborhood,” Patten said.
During Harper’s time at The Crib, she spent most of her days at the Center on Halsted. After four months, she moved to a different Night Ministry housing program in West Town, where she lived for five months while working for AmeriCorps.
After nine months of living in shelters, Harper moved back in with her parents briefly before moving into her own studio in Lakeview. Today, Harper works at a grocery store and has an improved relationship with her family. She credited The Night Ministry for her newfound stability.
“At The Crib you were given the space to grow … all you had to do was be there. That was the comfort of it; that’s what made it easier for me and many others to take this as our port in the storm,” she said. “I’m doing pretty solid.”