City, ‘Secret Santa’ Save Uptown Homeless Shelter

Christmas came a little early for a homeless shelter on the North Side that was set to shut down because of the state budget impasse.

The city of Chicago and a generous “secret Santa” stepped in at the eleventh hour to keep the shelter open after months and months of public protest. What does it mean for the city's homeless population going forward?

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The homeless shelter for single men is housed in the Preston Bradley Center on Lawrence Avenue in the city’s Uptown neighborhood. The shelter is currently preparing to hire additional staff in the new year and to accept dozens of people to come in off the streets to gain shelter.

This, thanks to an eleventh-hour deal announced Friday to keep the shelter open through the coming year. It had for months threatened to close by the end of 2016 because of a lack of state funding due to the ongoing budget impasse. The shelter is operated by the nonprofit North Side Housing and Support Services and has 72 beds.

A collection of community activist groups spent months protesting the lack of funding at this shelter, which is very close to a tent city on Lawrence Avenue where the homeless population can swell to as many as 70 people. One community activist says the deal was the result of the all the pressure put on lawmakers by the activists.

“We already have got dozens and dozens of people sleeping underneath bridge viaducts, and the closure of a 72-bed facility means more people sleeping outside under viaducts, risking their health, and perhaps dying,” said Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network, which was one of the groups that led the protests to keep the facility open. “We’ve seen rents go up, we’ve seen people forced out of (single room occupancy) housing. It is anathema to people in the community to see one of the last few shelters close down.”

A private Chicago-based foundation called the Reva and David Logan Foundation stepped in with a donation to keep the shelter open after brokering a deal with the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.

The city will also provide funding to keep the shelter open, but neither party would disclose exactly how much was committed. Thayer says the shelter was running a $100,000 deficit, and it has put out a call for more private donations from individuals.

In a statement, the Department of Family and Support Services said:

"After months of working closely with the North Side Housing and Support Services (NSHSS) on a plan to ensure continuity for their clients, we have arrived at a solution that leverages our continued funding to keep the shelter open this winter and moving forward. Our goal has always been to ensure that this shelter would remain open, and this renewed contract will support NSHSS with a new operational plan to meet their needs, while ultimately delivering quality services to meet the needs of our clients."

On Tuesday, Chicago Tonight visited the shelter, which only has two residents because the previous 70 residents had found housing or gone to another shelter. With this new money, the North Side Housing and Support Services say they will start accepting new clients and hiring new staff starting next week.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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