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Don’t be scared; they’re only homeless young people — they don’t bite

LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St.

The Crib, Night Ministry's youth shelter program, is leaving Lake View Lutheran Church for a larger location in Bucktown. "We were really disappointed and sad they are going to move," said Rev. Liala Beukema, pastor at LakeView Lutheran, 835 W. Addison. "We totally understood the need for expanded space. We are so happy for them. But it's very much our loss." | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

At the Crib, the Night Ministry’s youth shelter in the basement of the LakeView Lutheran Church on West Addison, there is a 9 p.m. ritual that can break the hardest heart.

There is room for only 21 foam mattresses on the floor of the single-room shelter. So whenever more than 21 young people — mostly members of the LGBTQ community — are seeking refuge from the streets, they draw lots. The losers must leave. There are tears, embraces, couples sometimes split, and it is not unknown for one homeless youth to give his place to someone who needs it more. I’ve seen it happen.

So when I first heard that the Night Ministry plans to move the Crib to a sprawling industrial building at 1735 N. Ashland, I assumed the idea is to accommodate more kids.

They won’t. They’ll still house 21, to preserve a homey environment. The Crib will, however, introduce a new level of luxury.

“There will actually be beds and not mattresses on the floor,” said the Night Ministry’s Burke Patten, the benefit of having several dedicated rooms. “People won’t be sleeping and recreating in the same space.”

OPINION

Maybe. The new location is leased, but its use as a shelter needs government approval; the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals will hear the case on Friday.

Sure, the new neighbors are worried. Last month, concerned Bucktown residents aired those concerns at a meeting at Burr Elementary, a block from the new location.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” one resident said, in a Block Club report. “It’s unpredictable.”

Office space for The Crib, The Night Ministry's overnight youth shelter,

The office space for The Crib, The Night Ministry’s overnight youth shelter, at LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Life is unpredictable. It might be suggested that, snuggled in the leafy suburban paradise of Northbrook, I can afford to be generous with the location of the Crib. Fair enough. So how is the move seen by those who would, were the place a problem, benefit most from its departure?

“We were really disappointed and sad they are going to move,” said Rev. Liala Beukema, pastor at LakeView Lutheran. “We totally understood the need for expanded space. We are so happy for them. But it’s very much our loss.”

A loss? How so?

“We benefit from the relationship,” she said. “It was a real gift to us. We feel so fortunate. It keeps us sharp and focused on our mission as a faithful community, compassionate and in a relationship with all of God’s people.”

Beukema has been pastor at LakeView Lutheran for 14 years, and was there when they decided to accept the Crib in in 2012.

Tough call?

“It was something we just couldn’t pass up on,” she said. “Just to be able to be a part of what was at time a very cutting-edge approach to addressing needs of young people who are homeless. It was pretty phenomenal to hear the vision for this caring, safe, life-giving space.”

Rev. Liala Beukema, pastor at LakeView Lutheran Church

Rev. Liala Beukema, pastor at LakeView Lutheran Church. She said having The Crib at the church was a great experience, and she will miss it. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Any message for their potential new neighbors, depending on how the zoning board meeting goes?

“They don’t have anything to worry about,” she said. “They should feel good about the fact that this is coming into their neighborhood, and see it as a real benefit.”

Of course, Beukema is a minister. They sometimes err on the side of big-heartedness. Another concern is that the new location is a block from a school. Turns out, the old location is also a block from a school: the Inter-American Magnet School. If the Crib were a problem, they’d be glad to see it go. They aren’t.

“We have not had any specific issues related to the homeless shelters in the area,” said Daniela Bylaitis, principal of the bi-lingual elementary school.  “We have not had any incidents with students. I recently had a conversation with the principal of Burr and shared the same information with her.”

I’ve been to enough of these meetings to know it’s not that people are cruel, exactly. They’re scared. If you want to stick a post in the ground, some folks will turn out to protest. Not so much because they hate posts. But this is a new post. And what if somebody runs into it?

In that sense, the Crib’s new location offers a dual service: providing essential shelter to youths during a difficult time in their lives. And providing the neighborhood with an important lesson: the things you are afraid of, once you get to know them, often prove not so scary after all.

Sleeping mats for The Crib, The Night Ministry's overnight youth shelter

The sleeping mats for The Crib, The Night Ministry’s overnight youth shelter, at LakeView Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St. The shelter won’t have room for any more overnight guests, but those guests will have real beds in its Bucktown location — pending zoning approval. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times