SOUTH SHORE — As the South Side faces a “lack of culturally competent LGBTQ+ services,” residents told local leaders in a recent survey they largely welcome a new health and community center on the South Side — if it’s done in a way that meets community’s needs.
Howard Brown Health, an LGBTQ-affirming health provider, plans to open a center for health care and human services on the South Side by late 2024.
The project received $15 million in state funding from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan of 2019, which budgeted $465 million statewide toward health care and human services over six years.
Pride Action Tank, a project incubator through the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and Howard Brown led a survey last summer to gather feedback on which services and programs should be offered through the center.
“This is historic,” said Kim Hunt, Pride Action Tank executive director. “I wanted to make sure that the voices of existing efforts, organizations [and] folks who don’t run organizations but are doing great work were also included in this process.”
Of the 233 survey participants, most identified as lesbian or gay and cisgender, and about half were Black. Residents of area codes 60615 and 60637 — which cover portions of Grand Boulevard, Greater Grand Crossing, Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park and Woodlawn — were most represented.
Participants cited an “overwhelming dissatisfaction” with the existing number of services and programs for LGBTQ+ South Siders — in particular, a lack of LGBTQ-specific and gender-affirming physical and mental health services.
Food, housing, employment and other wraparound services are also needed in the community and should be considered during the project’s development, respondents said.
“Not only were LGBTQ-specific services at the top of the list, but also ensuring accessibility [and] making sure that it’s close to public transit,” said Channyn Parker, Howard Brown director of strategic partnerships. “Also, those things that we need on an everyday basis … don’t have ‘LGBTQ’ slapped on them, right? We need a lot of things outside of what would be considered to be LGBTQ-specific.”
At a panel discussion about the survey Thursday, attendees said they wanted elder and end-of-life care at the center, as well as programs that can bridge health and wellness gaps between South and North side communities.
To read the full survey report, click here. Community input will be “the driving force behind any decision that’s made regarding the facility,” Parker said.
Some survey participants also had concerns about Howard Brown Health, which is based in Uptown, leading the charge for a South Side center. The provider also operates clinics in Hyde Park, New City and Englewood.
Participants urged Howard Brown to collaborate with smaller, local groups as it develops the community center, which must cultivate “strong relationships with Black-led organizations.”
Brave Space Alliance operates Chicago’s only Black- and transgender-led LGBTQ+ center in Hyde Park. The organization is planning a separate survey of trans Cook County residents, which will launch in June with the goal of influencing public policy and securing resources for trans communities.
Survey participants said they’ve also received LGBTQ-specific services on the South Side from organizations like Affinity Community Services, Chicago State University and Transforming Reentry Services.
The new center “will only be an extension of the work” organizations like these already perform, albeit “in a larger space,” said state Rep. Lamont Robinson, a Democrat representing the area.
“Regular and transparent communication” with existing organizations will be required as the project moves forward, and community advocates will be able to participate on the project’s planning board, Parker said.
City, state and federal officials must provide additional funding to sustain the center “for generations to come,” Robinson said.
“We need this same type of center on the Far South Side of Chicago, we need the same type of center on the Far West Side of Chicago,” he said. “This is just a start; we need these centers all across the state.”
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