By Toma Talpa and Rabia Baig
After 16 years of service, La Casa Norte, a non-profit organization, will open a new housing project in Humboldt Park, on the West Side of Chicago, called The Foundation Project.
“The Foundation Project is a significant project for us where we have been working on it for 7 years by the time it’s built,” said Sol Flores, the executive director of La Casa Norte.
The new project, a community and housing center that will provide 25 new apartments for youth and families, will be open in January of 2019 and will consist of 15,000 square feet. La Casa Norte partnered with Howard Brown Health to provide its clients a federally qualified health care center for those insured and uninsured. The clinic for physical and mental health care services will have a medical doctor, as well as a nurse practitioner on site for all emergencies.
It will also feature a nutrition center with food pantry, a workforce development and a youth learning center, and much more. The Foundation Project would aid a large number of people in need by providing safe housing, while guiding the choices they make and better their lives.
According to Jessica Rodriguez, the associate director of development, the approximate cost of this facility will be $ 20 million, with funding of private and public contributions. In fact, approximately $6 million were raised from 50 families who live in the Chicagoland area.
Likewise, Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development stated that the city also contributed to The Foundation Project with $3.5 million in Tax Increment Financing assistance, including a loan of $4 million.
Quinn stated that this project will “make sure that everyone has a safe place to turn when they are in need”.
The funding for the youth development and housing programs comes mainly from government, whether it’s from federal, state or city, as well as through different private foundations and individuals who strive to make a change in the community.
Created in 2002, co-founders Keith Decker and Peter McQueen, started this life-changing organization which aims to transform the lives of the homeless, as well as vulnerable families and immigrants with stable housing.
Decker and McQueen started this organization to improve the communities in the Chicagoland area. They both began working in homeless shelters (in the city and suburbs) and saw the need of opening an organization that will provide stable housing. They focused on youth after noticing that males from ages 16 to 21 received a breach in services, later following their focus on families as well.
Keith Decker (center left) and Peter McQueen (center right) with Sol Flores (middle right) during the inauguration in 2002 (Courtesy of La Casa Norte).
According to Chicago Urban Labs, 10,000 families were homeless in the Chicagoland area. The families also include children roaming the streets without any aid or a roof over their heads.
In addition, a study by the University of Chicago states that one in thirty adolescents between the ages 13 to 17, and one in ten young adults between the ages 18 to 25 experience homelessness in a year. With the help from La Casa Norte, 4,525 youth and families were aided to prevent homelessness.
In 2002, Sol Flores took the role as La Casa Norte’ executive director, and has the same goals of Decker and McQueen, to better the communities in the Chicagoland area by providing safe housing. The services provided include educational support, training, life-skills and employment readiness to prepare people for a brighter future.
Flores said that Chicago is challenged by youth and family homelessness which is why founders, Decker and McQueen brought their attention to “The Windy City,” specifically to Humboldt Park.
According to Flores, “one of the things that really moved them in the 90’s in the volunteering was the shear of resilience, but also this hopelessness of working with young people; it’s cliche but people are the future and they thought youthfulness and homelessness should not go together”.
As a result, La Casa Norte focuses on two target populations which is youth between ages 16 to 25, and vulnerable families such homeless, victims of domestic violence or single parents.
Its mission is to create a better environment for the communities, especially for youngsters who are roaming around the streets at night, by providing them services to acquire life-skills and empowering them to change their lives.
“La Casa Norte helped me get off the streets and avoid homelessness by providing me with housing,” said “John,” a La Casa Norte’s client who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his privacy.
Flores’ contribution to La Casa Norte and her determination and persistence to aid communities in Chicagoland area, led her to a mountain of awards which include the prestigious White House Champion of Change Award, the Chicago Neighborhood Development Award and the Youth Empowering Strategies Social Justice Inspiration Award to name few.
According to Rodriguez, they “operate two drop-in centers for ages 16 to 24, providing basic essentials such housing advocacy, toiletries, food, and clothes for the families coming in.”
Future plans of La Casa Norte go beyond this project as they are planning to make a greater impact in the vulnerable and homeless communities in the South Side of Chicago.
“We offer a drop-in and shelter center on the South Side as well. We’ve been thinking about other types of services we can bring to those local communities there which we know, again, don’t have a lot of options for young people and families experiencing homelessness,” said Flores.
If you know someone struggling with homelessness, domestic violence, or anyone who needs housing support contact, La Casa Norte at 773-276-4900.