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Humboldt Park’s ambitious homeless center opens in former screw factory

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With so many resources, all basic needs can be met under one roof

La Casa Norte on North Avenue in Humboldt Park.

After seven years of planning, Humboldt Park now has a new homeless housing and services center that will bring resources and opportunities to vulnerable people in Chicago. La Casa Norte’s $20 million, five-story building at 3533 W. North Avenue officially opened on Tuesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony, reception, and tours of the space.

More than 240 donors, volunteers, and staff attended the long-awaited opening—the building broke ground in September 2016 but faced construction and weather delays. Designed by Landon Bone Baker architects, the former screw factory now reflects the positive energy of La Casa Norte and its dedicated staff.

Those at the event were able to get a first look at the 25 permanent supportive apartments, counseling and administrative offices, a community gathering space, a commercial kitchen and cafe, a rooftop garden, a small courtyard, and a stage area for future art shows. The Lakeview food pantry and Howard Brown health clinic also have space making it so that almost every need can be met within the building.

Sol Flores, the outgoing founding executive director of La Casa Norte, wore a colorful dress and cut the ribbon at the opening of the center.

La Casa Norte began in 2002 as a nonprofit offering services and programming for young homeless men when at the time there weren’t really any organizations focusing on that demographic, according to the organization’s history. La Casa Norte expanded over the next decade to provide help to homeless youth and families, offering mentoring, workshops, events, art classes and other supportive services.

Bringing it all together takes hard work of fundraising millions without losing the building’s vision, said Sol Flores, the outgoing founding executive director of La Casa Norte.

“We refused to build anything less than a space that would convey beauty, hope and dignity,” said Flores. “This building represents so much for our community, including revitalization, inspiring hope, care and the core belief that everyone should have access to basic human services.”

The large modern glass windows on the front facade of the building and color on the interior and exterior walls makes it stand out from its neighbors. Its services do too, especially since the area doesn’t have a lot of food options or medical resources. Flores hopes its presence will combat those issues and influence locals to get involved.

Colorful interior windows.

The building’s design brings in a lot of natural light, which Flores said represents the nonprofit’s mission of transparency and positivity. The architecture firm that worked on the project specializes in affordable housing and mixed income buildings and Peter Landon, founder of the firm, won AIA Chicago’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for his work on buildings similar to the new homeless center.

Flores, a longtime Humboldt Park resident, said the financial support from institutions, the architects and local families was instrumental and a perfect example of community power that will better the neighborhood and the city.

At first, Alderman Roberto Maldonado didn’t think it would be possible to pull together all the funding needed. But, the center ended up getting $7.5 million from the city and the alderman designated $3 million in tax-increment financing (TIF). Through out the fundraising process, Flores continued to get donor after donor, he said.

“It has been 10 years from dream to reality but God knows this is one hell of a development that our homeless youth deserve,” Maldonado said.

The homeless population has declined for the third consecutive year in Chicago and more funding to nonprofits focused on homelessness has increased shelter space for young people by 33 percent, said Robert Rivkin, deputy mayor of Chicago, at the ceremony.

Maldonado said he is proud to represent a ward that is so welcoming to working families and less fortunate people. In the last four years, the apartment units add to a total of 246 new affordable units but Maldonado is pushing for more in the future.

“In the next four years we are going to see an additional 400 units,” he said. Upcoming in the neighborhood is a project that will turn land next to The 606 into 150 affordable units and a public park, though it still needs approval from City Council. Another project with 24 affordable units on top of a proposed theater in Humboldt Park is also in the works.