A plan to transform a Lincoln Square motel into a shelter for unhoused Chicagoans suffering from medical, mental health or substance abuse problems as part of an effort to make a pandemic-era program permanent advanced Monday.
The Chicago City Council’s Housing and Real Estate Committee unanimously endorsed the plan to spend $2.9 million to purchase the Diplomat Motel, 5230 N. Lincoln Ave., sending the proposal backed by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) to the full City Council meeting scheduled for July 19.
Vasquez said he was hopeful that the motel would prove to be a model to stabilize Chicagoans in greatest need for help by offering them the “dignity of their own units and the dignity of their own support system.”
“This can set a model for the rest of the city,” Vasquez said, envisioning a similar shelter in each of Chicago’s 50 wards. “This is how we solve the problem, rather than putting a Band-Aid on it.”
In September, artist Sick Fischer repainted the motel’s Lincoln Avenue-facing facade as part of Vasquez’s Lincoln Avenue North Arts District initiative.
Once part of motel row that lined Lincoln Avenue to the city’s northwest border, the program calls for the Diplomat’s 46 rooms to be renovated into 40 units designed to house people for three to six months as they get medical care and transition into permanent homes.
“I pray that it works,” said Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward).
Officials with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Department of Housing told committee members that the proposal was spurred by the success of an effort by city officials at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 that turned a hotel at 166 E. Superior St. into a shelter for homeless people with high-risk health conditions.
That effort not only protected them from COVID-19 but also helped lower their blood pressure and blood glucose levels, it helped them find permanent homes and stable employment, according to a study of the program conducted by health officials.
The Chicago Recovery Plan earmarks $30 million for the Department of Housing to work with the agencies that operate Chicago’s shelter system to purchase properties that can serve as shelters with individual rooms and bathrooms. The Diplomat Motel is set to be the first of the new shelters to open, officials said.
The same program sets aside $12 million for the Chicago Department of Public Health to care for the residents of those new shelters.
Once the shelter is up and running, it would likely cost between $3 million and $4 million annually to operate, officials said.
That would likely be significantly less than the city spends now on police response as well as trips to the emergency rooms, Vasquez said.
Mayor Brandon Johnson supports a proposal known as Bring Chicago Home that would hike taxes on the sales of properties worth $1 million or more and set aside that revenue to fight homelessness in Chicago.
Supporters of the proposal say the change will help the nearly 66,000 Chicagoans who are unhoused by generating approximately $160 million annually — enough to address the root causes of homelessness and reduce crime and poverty throughout Chicago, they say.
State law does not give the Chicago City Council the power to change the transfer tax on its own authority. Without legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, the measure needs the support of Chicago voters through a referendum before the City Council can levy the tax and collect the funds.
The city’s 12 shelters — designed to house approximately 3,000 people every night — are now occupied by more than 5,000 people, stretched beyond their normal capacity by the arrival of more than 11,000 people, most of them from Central and South America, who have arrived in Chicago since Aug. 31, when Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sent the first bus of migrants to Chicago, according to city data.