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Brown: Time’s up for Uptown homeless shelter

Darren Henderson is one of the last men staying in North Side Housing's homeless shelter at the People's Church in Uptown. The shelter is closing on Dec. 23. | Mark Brown/Sun-Times

The last 14 men living in North Side Housing’s homeless shelter at the People’s Church in Uptown have just 10 more days to find somewhere else to go.

Although efforts are being made to find everyone acceptable housing, if only another shelter, at least one is refusing to leave, and it’s possible a few of the stragglers will need to be forcibly removed at the end.

The shelter at 941 W. Lawrence is slated to close for good on Dec. 23 because of financial problems. Except for some protesters, there is no real effort afoot to keep it open despite what most agree is a clear need for its services.

Before North Side Housing announced in September its decision to close the shelter and soon after stopped taking new guests, about 72 men lived there on a daily basis.

Most stayed four to six months as they tried to get back on their feet. That meant 400 to 450 individuals were served by the facility over the course of a year.


They slept on mats on the floor of the church basement, which probably sounds less than ideal, but with a shortage of shelter openings on the North Side, these were coveted slots for the homeless.

North Side Housing operated the shelter as what is called “interim housing,” which meant the homeless men accepted into the program were allowed to stay 24 hours a day. In addition to being fed, they were provided with case management services to help them move on with their lives.

That differs from an emergency shelter, where they can stay overnight but must leave during the day.

For obvious reasons, it’s easier to take the necessary steps to move past homelessness, including getting and holding a job, in the more stable setting of interim housing. Perhaps less obvious is that someone working second shift may be prohibited from even getting into an emergency shelter when they get off work at night.

But round-the-clock care is more expensive, and North Side Housing says it was operating the program at an annual deficit of $100,000 — losses that were endangering its other well-regarded housing programs.

Most of the agency’s funding came from the state, and the state’s own budget troubles and late payments created a further complication.

North Side took over the shelter in 2011, after the previous nonprofit operator also ran into financial difficulties. At the time, state and city officials rallied to preserve the program. Not this time.

Executive Director Richard Ducatenzeiler said his agency told the city it needed additional funding to continue into 2017. The city said it had no more money to offer.

City officials said Monday they have tried to ensure a smooth transition for the men being displaced and argued that the closing “is not expected to hinder our ability to serve our clients in need of shelter.”

The latter assertion is ridiculous. Even if they find slots for all 72 of these individuals, there is no place on the North Side for the next 72, or the 72 after that, some of whom will wind up a few blocks away in the tent encampments.

The shelter won’t be there for the next Darren Henderson, 53, one of the stragglers who hasn’t figured out where he will go next.

“If there is a person out there who wants to turn their life around, this is the place,” Henderson told me Monday.

Henderson said the support he received from the shelter the past five months enabled him to get a job at an Elk Grove Village plastics factory. He commutes two hours each way on public transportation.

The job should give Henderson a leg up on finding housing over the other men left at the shelter, most of whom have no source of income, and he said he is hopeful. But he wishes he had more time.

Sorry to say, time is up.