Night Ministry's The Crib approved to move into the Mural Building

Date: 
03/16/2019
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Mural Building, looking southeast*

In a late night decision Friday, Mar. 15, the Night Ministry was granted a special use by Chicago's Zoning Board to "establish a temporary overnight shelter on the first floor of the existing four-story commercial building" at 1735 N. Ashland Ave., the Mural Building.

The zoning meeting began in the morning but this item did not get called until about 5:30 p.m. As reported by CBS TV, both supporters and objectors populated the City Council chambers but many were not able to stay all day. 

As reported by several attendees, many of those opposed to the special use do not live close to the Ashland location or have any children in the school. 

In approximately the last couple of months, the normal vetting process of Alderman Scott Waguespack's 32nd Ward Office has included the Night Ministry staff speaking with people at multiple community group events including a special Bucktown Community Organization (BCO) meeting, a Wicker Park Committee Board (WPC) with Preservation and Development Committee meeting and a WPC monthly meeting. 

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On the building's north side the entrance is to be from this parking lot*

As a result of those interactions, Night Ministry agreed to specific requests which included  locating the shelter's door on the building's north side off the parking lot. Also, they will have a bus taking the guests to public transportation in the morning. 

In addition to community groups, the Alderman's Office worked with the principals in Lakeview and at Burr Elementary, a block away from the Ashland Ave. site. A LakeView elementary school a block away from the current location has had no complaints or concerns regarding The Crib. 

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Looking north, Burr School is across Ashland Ave. on left*

At the hearing, Burr parents, speaking in favor of The Crib, said that they believe it will be a good lesson for their children. 

Reverend Liala Beukema, Pastor at LakeView Lutheran, where the Night Ministry program is currently located, said in the Chicago Sun-Times, “We were really disappointed and sad they are going to move. We totally understood the need for expanded space. We are so happy for them. But it’s very much our loss.” 

Yet fear appeared to drive some nay-sayers against the program because of interactions The Crib had with the police. However, according to sources at the meeting, the Zoning Board said that if they have no evidence, the program cannot be accused of wrong doing. 

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Waguespack along with his Chief of Staff Paul Sajovec were at the entire meeting and stated that prior to the new location's opening, they will have a Plan of Operation in place with The Crib. Such plans are part of ongoing relationships with community groups and the Alderman and his Staff to hold organizations, businesses or developers responsible for specific actions or behaviors. 

Putting the area's social service history into perspective, Teddy Varndell, a resident and commercial property owner as well as a past president of WPC, said, "In the last 10 or so years Wicker Park has lost Association House, the Association House High School, an Easter Seals satellite office, the Ruiz Belvis Center and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. The Night Ministry's Crib provides us the opportunity to add to a dwindling number of social service agencies in our neighborhood. The ZBA recognized the importance of this and correctly granted the variance." 

Background
While the Night Ministry began in 1976, they began providing shelters for homeless youth in 1992. Currently, they have five housing programs. The Crib was opened in 2011 with the help of Mayor Daley who provided some initial funding in response to the needs expressed by a population of 18 to 24 -year-olds. With many from the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bi sexual, Transgender and Queer) community, staff explained that the youth did not feel comfortable in shelters aimed at adults. Furthermore they felt that they are temporarily homelessness. 

To meet those requirements, The Crib provides safe overnight shelter for up to 21 young adults between 18 and 24. Dinner and breakfast are served and guests have access to showers and laundry facilities. Group and recreational activities are also available. In extreme weather, The City of Chicago could request The Crib to extend their hours and increase capacity to 25. 

Hours are from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. They can book their space in advance. If they have more than 21 wanting space in an evening, Catholic Charities has a van that can be called to take them to another shelter. Individuals are either working, in school or in service programs and have goals for themselves and know that The Crib is a source of stability for themselves. 

When it began, The Crib was the only such service for this population. Now other shelters have opened using this model. 

The program operates in one room in the LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison. Mattresses are put on the floor after the tables where they eat are folded up and put away. The smallness of the space provides no private space for staff to privately work with the guests. Tensions can escalate. 

As with many programs The Crib has changed staff and the program, each time trying to improve their services. 

CWB Chicago lists two troublesome individuals who stayed at The Crib, one in October 2016 where a man was arrested three weeks after being at the shelter. He was arrested for criminal behavior not related to The Crib. The other in February 2017 when the police were called with the claim a man had a gun. Though a gun was not found, the individual was charged with battery and resisting arrest. 

The Crib closed down in June 2017 after two staff members left the agency, they replaced staff and put all staff through additional training. According to the CWB story, "Since re-opening on July 26, 2017, fewer problems have been reported at The Crib." 

Having serviced approximately 200 youth this last year, the percentage of problems has been quite low, according to Night Ministry's Tedd Peso. He also explained that staff regularly attends community, police and CAPS meetings in LakeView. 

In the re-evaluation of the program, Night Ministry determined that they wanted to provide a better quality of services. Allowing each person to have a separate bed from where they are eating, this new location will provide a separate space to meet in groups and allow staff to work in more privacy with an individual having issues. 

It took staff a great deal of effort to find the appropriate location where they can house The Crib on the first floor as well as their administrative offices on the second and third floors. Like the shelter program, the administrative requirements have grown. 

The proximity to the administrative offices, also aids in "eyes" on the program and the environment as outreach staff will be at the building after they complete their evening programming.

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This is the floor plan for The Crib's new location

*Photos: Google Maps
Other photos: Elaine Coorens

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