Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meeting Notes Regarding the Proposed Consolidation of Sarah’s Circle Overnight Shelter and Day Center Services

Sarah’s Circle is proposing moving its overnight shelter out of the Uptown Baptist Church and consolidating it with its long-time Day Center program in the ICA Building.

Residents from Truman Square and other nearby areas (Gunnison Neighbors, LANA, Castlewood, Argyle Winmore) were invited to attend a meeting with Alderman Cappleman, Tressa Feher, Abby Sullivan, the CEO and several board members of the ICA Building (4750 North Sheridan) (“ICA”), and the director and two Board members from Sarah's Circle on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

The meeting was in regard to Sarah's Circle's request to move its 50-bed women's overnight shelter from the basement of Uptown Baptist Church (“UBC”) to the site of its long-time Day Center on the 2nd floor of ICA.  The timetable for this proposed move is mid- to late summer.  It requires a Special Use permit, which has been applied for, but not yet approved.  Residents and/or condo boards within 250 feet of ICA should have been sent notices of the permit application by Sarah’s Circle.

Some history------- Late in 2011, the REST Shelter closed due to lack of funding.  It ran, among other housing, a men’s shelter at 941 West Lawrence and a women’s shelter in UBC’s basement.  Sarah's Circle, which has provided assistance for at-risk women for over 30 years, was asked by the city to take over REST’s women’s overnight shelter, which it did.

How things work now is, the women staying at UBC must leave the church by 8:00 A.M.  They take their belongings with them to ICA, where they receive three meals a day, counseling, job training, and services such as laundry and showers.  At 8:00 P.M., they return to UBC with their belongings, where they sleep on cots in the church basement.  Some of the women are employed and go to and from their jobs from ICA.

Sarah's Circle is in the process of building a new headquarters, which it will own outright, at Sheridan & Gunnison (to be known as "Sarah's House").  It will provide living quarters for ten clients, office space for its staff, and some of the job training, programs, and counseling that are now offered at the Day Center at ICA.  Before a permit was issued for construction of Sarah's House, Sarah's Circle met with members of its neighboring block clubs regarding mutual expectations and signed a legally binding Good Neighbor Agreement.  Sarah's House is expected to be completed sometime this summer.

After Sarah's House is built, Sarah’s Circle will move its offices there from ICA.

Sarah’s Circle proposes to build out part of its existing 2nd floor ICA space to include a dormitory containing beds and lockers.  The overnight shelter would leave UCB completely.  The purpose of the meeting was to meet with neighbors of ICA and talk about the plan with them.

If approved, the ICA space would continue to function as it has for years, serving three meals a day, providing laundry and shower facilities and some social functions.  Some of the existing programs, services and training would remain at ICA and some would move to Sarah's House.

This plan would consolidate Sarah’s Circle’s programming.  The women would no longer have to carry everything they own with them everywhere.  They would no longer have to make the walk between Wilson and Lawrence twice a day.  The sleeping area and the existing day programs would all take place in the same space, supplemented by some programs at Sarah's House.  UBC would not provide shelter space to Sarah’s Circle in the future.

During the meeting, there were many questions and concerns raised.  Here are the answers given to some of the concerns raised.

* If the Special Use permit is approved, Sarah's Circle's clients will no longer make a twice-a-day trek along Sheridan between Lawrence and Wilson carrying everything they own.  They will remain in ICA or participate in programs at Sarah's House.  Their belongings will remain in lockers at ICA.  At no time will clients have “nowhere to go” or spend hours outside on the street lining up or waiting to be let inside.

* There are two ICA security staff on duty at all times and a minimum of two Sarah’s Circle staff members on duty at all times.  Clients’ guests are not allowed into the facilities.  Women with children who come to Sarah’s Circle are placed with a family shelter.

* Sarah's Circle has a 30-year history, and last year it placed over 100 women into permanent housing.  Its goal is to place women into permanent housing within the 120-day window recommended by the city.  To achieve this, it offers an intensive program including job training, case management, housing assistance, health care, counseling, etc.

* Concerns were raised that the existing permit application did not specify the number of beds allowed in ICA.  Sarah’s Circle agreed to amend the application to specify that (a) no more than 50 women could be housed there at one time and (b) its services are provided solely for “single unaccompanied women.”

* Sarah’s Circle agreed to work with neighbors from surrounding block clubs on a legally binding Good Neighbor Agreement concerning its tenancy at ICA, in the same way that it did with the immediate neighbors when it proposed building Sarah's House.

* ICA is a large building with many non-profit tenants, including Heartland Alliance and city of Chicago offices.  There are two residential floors.  On the 7th floor is an intentional community, where many of the Chicago ICA staff live.  On the 8th floor is lodging for non-profit groups who are visiting or holding meetings in Chicago, and/or out-of-town college students, who usually spend breaks and summers there, training or working in the community.

* When the question was raised about more shelters moving into ICA once Sarah’s Circle did, the CEO for the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Terry Bergdall, stated emphatically that the Institute is not interested in any additional shelters in the building.  The Institute’s future expansion will be in the area of its GreenRise Project (sustainable renewable energy growth) and expanding its lodging services on 8th floor, which tie into its Conference Center and Training facilities.  It is rebranding itself as a “green center,” with the name 4750 GreenRise Uptown, to reflect its new focus.

* The issue of three existing shelters (Salvation Army family shelter, NHSS’s men’s shelter [formerly REST], and Sarah’s Circle’s women’s shelter) in a two-block area was brought up.  Because a church basement is a far from ideal setting for an overnight shelter program, Sarah’s Circle agreed it would make itself available to give advice to NHSS if NHSS makes the decision to move its shelter out of the basement of the Preston Bradley Center.

* The special use permit at UBC will expire after Sarah’s Circle vacates.

* Sarah's Circle is maintaining the same number of residents it already has.  It is not bringing any new shelter beds to Uptown.  It is consolidating from two rental locations to one, and adding Sarah's House, which it will own outright.

After an hour and 15 minutes, all questions raised had been answered and there were no further questions.  The meeting was adjourned.  Cindi Anderson volunteered to meet with interested residents living near ICA to put together a Good Neighbor Agreement with Sarah’s Circle.  

The hearing for the Special Use permit will be held on April 19th in front of the Zoning Board of Appeals, 121 North LaSalle, Room 200, at 9:00 A.M.