Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Cold Winter for the Homeless in Edgewater

In March of this year Breakthrough moved our men's services from the Edgewater community on the north side of Chicago to the East Garfield Park community on Chicago's west side. While we enjoyed a wonderful 16 year stay within the facilites of the First Evangelical Free Church, we were growing and needed more space that was better designed for the dignity of our homeless guests. We are very happy to be in our new building.

Unfortunately, our exit from the Edgewater community, along with the closing of several other shelters there, is causing a bit of a crisis for the homeless that want to remain on the north side. Here's an article about it. I have gotten several calls from journalists asking why we left.

It made sense for us organizationally to move all of our services into one community. We were serving women at our Breakthrough Joshua Center in East Garfield Park and it was challenging to build staff camaraderie when we were in two very different communities.

Beyond that though, we did try to find space in Edgewater both when we opened our women's center in 2000 and when we knew we needed to relocate our facility to serve men in 2004. On both occasions we faced two obstacles - the high cost of securing a site in a neighborhood where property values had appreciated beyond what we thought we could afford, and NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard) from the community. Aldermen in the community let us know that they would have a difficult time convincing neighbors to accept a homeless service center in the areas we targeted. Eventually we found space on the west side that we could afford and Alderman Burnett supported us at a community meeting saying, "Other communities don't want homeless services in their neighborhoods. If we don't help our people who will?" The neighbors accepted us because they recognized the need for the services we offer.

I'm concerned that communities like Andersonville, Edgewater and Uptown are trying to make the homeless problem go away by edging out services. The result? Many who could be assisted into stable housing will continue to roam the streets and sleep under bridges and along the lake front. This will be a very cold winter for the homeless if they continue to get the cold shoulder from those communities.

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