Fate of Edgewater homeless shelter tops tonight's meeting agenda

Edgewater residents, business owners and homeless advocates are meeting tonight to discuss the fate of their neighborhood homeless shelter.

Tonight's meeting is scheduled to begin 7 p.m. at the Jubilee Hall in Saint Ita’s Church on 5500 North Broadway.

The organizers of the Residents for Effective Shelter Transition (R.E.S.T.) operate a 65-bed, men-only shelter out of the gymnasium at Epworth United Methodist Church at 5253 N. Kenmore. The shelter received an eviction letter from Epworth UMC’s Administrative Council on Oct. 1.

The letter, signed by Diane Johnson Walker, chairwoman of Epworth UMC’s Administrative Council, cited heating costs as the main reason for the eviction and gave the shelter until Nov. 1 to vacate the property.

However, Epworth UMC agreed to extend the eviction date to Dec. 1 after meeting with Alderwoman Mary Ann Smith, D-48.

At an Oct. 29 public meeting held by the alderwoman, it was suggested that the shelter be temporarily moved to the vacant site of the old Pasteur Restaurant at 5525 North Broadway. Kathleen Ahler, executive director of R.E.S.T., says that the space will be sufficient as a temporary site for the shelter.

The pre-conditions for the new site require that shelter residents abide by “good camper” etiquette and that security be present during the shelter’s hours of operation, officials say. The site is located next door to Smith’s office, which would allow the alderwoman to easily observe activities at the shelter.

The city has approved funding for a new site until May 1.

R.E.S.T. began running the shelter out of Epworth UMC 14 years ago, at the invitation of Rev. Betty Mixon, the church’s pastor at the time.

"Our relationship [with Epworth UMC] has only deteriorated in the last three years with the introduction of Rev. Joe Johnson into the clergy,” says Ahler.

“We are working with the city and the alderman’s office to find an alternate location for the shelter,” Johnson said last week. He would not comment on Epworth’s reasons for the eviction.

R.E.S.T. runs a larger shelter at the Peoples Church of Chicago at 941 West Lawrence.

Some in Edgewater are concerned about the fate of services for the homeless. Last year, homeless services provided by the Breakthrough Urban Ministries on North Ashland moved to another neighborhood, and the Salvation Army's Tom Seay Center in Uptown closed in September.

Brady Harden, Jr., president of Inner Voice, says the North Kenmore shelter's fate rests in the hands of the neighborhood residents. The city indirectly funds the R.E.S.T. shelter through Inner Voice, an emergency housing agency based in Chicago.

 “There’s a lot of good will in the Edgewater community,” says Brady.

The city of Chicago currently has between 5,500 and 6,000 beds for homeless people available at a given time, officials say.

 “It’s important to note that no one will be out on the street,” says Lisa Elkuss, communications director at Chicago’s Department of Human Services.