Everyone supports solving homelessness until it reaches their backyard

Everyone supports solving homelessness until it reaches their backyard

NIMBY! Not in my backyard!

The photo is of a church in the middle of trendy and moneyed Lincoln Park. In the basement of the church is a homeless shelter. Lincoln Park Community Shelter has existed in one form or another for thirty-two years.

The shelter houses thirty-five residents...twenty-four men and eleven women. They also do outreach for other homeless people who either can't get into the shelter because of lack of space or just don't want to live there for other reasons. Their success rate of getting people from homelessness into their own permanent housing is over seventy-five percent. It's an unheard of rate in their business. I'm one of those seventy-five percenters.

Can you imagine how many more people can be success stories if they had more space? Can you imagine how many more people they could get off the street if they had more dormitory space. Can you imagine how many more people they could get off the street if they could provide their own permanent housing? And that's what they are trying to do.

LPCS has outgrown their current location. Every time I walk into the current building, I'm surprised by how the space has deteriorated in the almost three years since I moved out. The last time I was there, they were recovering from a flood. Don't get me wrong, its still head and shoulders above other shelters but it seems that they spend a lot of money on repairs that could spent on human services. At some point, you have to stop putting good money into bad situations.

When you add all this together, it's time to move on...move elsewhere into a space that would suit everyone's needs.

So it's on to a new, larger, better space in Old Town. A space of their own. NOT SO FAST!

Here's the thing with homeless shelters. Everyone thinks it's a good idea to get people off the street and into a safe environment....until they find out that shelter will be your neighbor. It happened in Lincoln Park. It's happening in Old Town. And whatever area you live in, if there's a shelter there, it happened in your neighborhood.

The move to Old Town isn't imminent. It's still almost a year and a half away. They aren't quite done with city government approval, although that's getting closer. The building itself has a long way to go. Relations with the new neighborhood has an even further way to go. NIMBY!

There have been a couple of meetings so far. The first was about a month ago at a school in Old Town. Only a few residents of the neighborhood showed up. Those who did were confused by what the meeting was about. There were postcards sent out to the residents and posters put up throughout the neighborhood. To be honest, I think this could have been done better...more transparent.... but it did set the stage for the next meeting. That occurred last Friday at City Hall. It was for zoning approval that the shelter needed to move into this area and that brought out the opponents who were stunned to hear a shelter was moving into a space near their homes. NIMBY!

The first man to speak against approval for the shelter was a man who ranted about how a shelter was going to affect his property value. There's nothing as NIMBY as someone who supports something until it causes a hit in their pocketbook. Yet, I respected this person more than the rest of the opponents. At least he was honest with his reason.

The others, no so much. You heard stories about how the neighborhood was turning bad with crime. Were shelter residents equipped deal with that? The train station down the street was a place where drugs were being dealt. Do shelter residents with addiction problems have the tools to deal with that? My response is if the neighborhood is rampant with crime and drugs, why are they still there. Why did many of them think it was a good place to send their children to school and raise a family.

The funny thing is if they give them a chance, the shelter and it's residents will be among their best and favorite neighbors. They will become an integral part of Old Town. See, these same issues happened many years ago in Lincoln Park. Yep, LP residents also worried about having a shelter in their neighborhood. They were as NIMBY as it gets. Property values, crime, drugs, the effect seeing a homeless person would have on their children...yada, yada, yada. And guess how it turned out?

The shelter became a valued member of the community. When there's a clean up needed or snow has to be shoveled, you can count on a shelter resident to be out front. You see shelter people volunteering in local businesses. If you walk down to the corner of Fullerton and Clark or to the Fullerton train station, you'd never be able to tell the difference in who is a shelter resident or a property owner. That's how integrated the shelter has become in the community. And it's reciprocal because many Lincoln Park residents do volunteer work and sit on boards at the shelter. Sure, there's still some NIMBYness happening but that's to be expected and it's rare.

To be honest, I'm sorry they're leaving Lincoln Park and moving to Old Town. I'm in the area often and I get a good feeling whenever I walk past. I rarely walk in but it warms my heart to know that they are there and I know the neighborhood feels the same way. I'll miss that and I'm sure the Lincoln Park community feels the same way.

The good news for the residents of the Old Town community is they'll get a chance to have those same feelings and relationships. I guarantee it will enhance your lives. You have almost eighteen months to get ready. You have eighteen months to get past being NIMBY!

This post is part of the ongoing Faces of Homelessness series. You can find them all by clicking on the link.

This is another piece on the same topic written by my colleague April Leachman.

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