ROGERS PARK — A proposal to move a men’s shelter from a temporary motel setting into its own building in Rogers Park has earned the support of Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) after changes were made to the plan.
North Side Housing and Supportive Services’ proposal to open a 72-bed shelter at 7464 N. Clark St. got Hadden’s support after plans for a “drop-in center” at the facility were removed, Hadden announced at a community meeting Monday.
The alderman’s support for the shelter comes after a month of intense neighborhood debate on the topic, one that featured an “intentional misinformation campaign” against the project, Hadden said. It also comes as homelessness has risen in Rogers Park and across the city in part due to the coronavirus pandemic.
North Side Housing has operated a men’s shelter since 1984, first in a church in Lakeview before moving in 2011 to the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown. In 2021, North Side left a deteriorating Preston Bradley Center and took up residence in the Super 8 motel at 7300 N. Sheridan Road.
The move allowed North Side to continue its services through the pandemic, when shelter facilities in the city were stretched thin. The group could only afford to put up 50 men in the hotel.
After a year in the motel, North Side is seeking to put down permanent roots in Rogers Park. A benefactor has pledged to buy the empty medical building at 7464 N. Clark St. and lease it to North Side Housing, said Laura Michalski, executive director of the group.
Plans for the men’s shelter were announced publicly in June.
Though the proposal was hotly debated online and faced opposition from an organized group of neighbors, Hadden said she supported the project due to overall community support and a need to address homelessness.
“They’re a great organization with a proven track record, and they provide services we desperately need,” Hadden said in an interview. “Getting people housed is what everyone wants.”
Monday’s community meeting on the topic saw more than 100 neighbors attend.
The meeting included a spirited debate of the project, with supporters saying more shelters are needed to provide housing to people on the street. Others said Rogers Park already has a high concentration of social services and it is unfair to saddle one neighborhood with such facilities.
“We’re not seeing this in Old Town or Lincoln Park,” Rogers Park resident Scott Wenthe said. “Are we bringing more poverty into our ward that has already done more than most wards to help those in need?”
The project faced opposition from a group called Concerned Residents of Rogers Park and other anonymous efforts that circulated misleading information on the shelter. Efforts included an email campaign that alarmed some recipients who weren’t sure how the Concerned Residents group got their email addresses.
Flyers posted about the shelter contained the wrong number of beds included in the project and said the project could increase the size of a tent city in nearby Touhy Park.
At the meeting Monday, one neighbor accused Hadden of busing in homeless men from Uptown into the Super 8 Motel and then, when money for the motel ran out, placing them in Touhy Park. Similar accusations have been made in online neighborhood groups.
Hadden said the shelter proposal faced an “intentional misinformation campaign,” one that she sought to combat throughout the process so neighbors could make an informed decision on the project.
Previously, Hadden has posted on social media seeking to clear up “misinformation” on the project, including that the shelter will attract unhoused people from Uptown.
“We’re living in a time when misinformation can create a pretty toxic environment,” Hadden said. “At the heart of a functioning democracy is having good information that people have access to to make their decisions.”
In a 49th Ward survey of just more than 1,000 ward residents, more than 72 percent said they supported North Side’s plans to open a men’s shelter in Rogers Park. More than 5 percent said they would support the plan with some changes and 22 percent opposed the project.
“We have to do something to address this ongoing crisis,” Eithne McMenamin, a Rogers Park resident, said at the community meeting. “I’m a bit mystified by the people who are obviously unhappy with the level of homelessness in our community, but when a proposal is put forward to address it, they’re against it.”
Some of the project’s opposition centered around North Side’s plans to include a drop-in center when men could receive support services, including access to showers, meals and case workers. It would have also functioned as a cooling and warming center.
That component was scrapped from the plan to garner better community consensus on the project, Hadden said. North Side has a drop-in center in Ravenswood.
The Clark Street shelter would be nearly 10,000 square feet and have capacity for 72 residents. It would be a 24/7 operation, offering its residents three meals per day and access to computers, laundry services, job search assistance, case management and transportation, North Side Housing officials previously said.
Fifty of those beds would be reserved for North Side Housing’s clients in the nearby motel. The other beds would go to unhoused Chicagoans who call 311 in search of shelter, officials said.
North Side Housing also operates 200 units of supportive housing that are offered to formerly unhoused residents. Only 3 percent of clients accepted into North Side Housing’s homeless shelter end up coming back into a shelter setting.
North Side Housing operates only one of two men’s shelters on the North Side. Without a permanent location, the organization could close its shelter service, officials said at the community meeting.
“We are really, really good at operating a men’s shelter,” said Peter Marchese, North Side Housing’s board president. “We know how to run it in a way that you would find acceptable.”
With Hadden’s support for a special-use permit to operate in the Clark Street building, North Side Housing officials said they hope its new shelter will open by the end of the year. The special-use permit still needs City Council approval.
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