Covenant House Illinois Doubles Down on Ending Youth Homelessness with More Beds and Services in East Garfield Park April 28, 2021

“There have been lots of people doing good work in Chicago, but in a city of this size, you’re going to have a large population of young people experiencing homelessness who need 24/7 care to overcome trauma, develop skills, and move on with their lives,” said Jim Kelly, the Interim Executive Director of Covenant House Illinois (CHIL), a nonprofit established in Chicago in 2017 that is dedicated to addressing homelessness among young people between the ages of 18 and 24. “Covenant House provides that care in a dedicated way from a place of unconditional love and respect that is critically important for their wellbeing.”

In a Nutshell

What: New facility for Covenant House Illinois with 40 interim beds for youth experiencing homelessness, program space, administrative offices, and room for continued organizational growth
Sector: Housing, Youth Services
Location: Chicago, IL (East Garfield Park)
Size: 25,000-square-feet
Cost: $8.93 million (acquisition and construction)
Funding sources: Donor funds, $3.3 million New Markets Tax Credit allocation from the Chicago Development Fund that provided CHIL with approximately $2.9 million in equity (with JPMorgan Chase as the equity investor), $3 million loan from Covenant House International, $605,000 bridge loan from IFF to provide up-front capital as CHIL carries out a multi-year fundraising campaign
IFF Support: $605,000 loan for the project, as well as a feasibility study, site search, pre-development services, and owner’s representation
Design: MKB Architects
General Contractors: GMP Development & Pepper Construction
Impact: 40 interim beds created for youth experiencing homelessness (with space for 20 longer term transitional beds to be added in the future)

Since opening its Youth Development Center approximately four years ago in leased space downtown, where any young person at-risk of experiencing homelessness can stay for up to 120 days and store their belongings and access basic necessities in a safe, supportive environment, CHIL has provided more than 10,000 nights of shelter to more than 800 young people experiencing homelessness in Chicago. But with just 12 beds for interim housing at the location, CHIL needed a larger facility to address the underlying challenge of too few beds for the number of young people experiencing homelessness in the city on any given night. With support from IFF, CHIL is on the verge of relocating to a larger, newly rehabbed facility in Chicago’s East Garfield Park neighborhood this summer.

After engaging IFF’s real estate team to conduct a feasibility study and a site search for a new location, CHIL settled on a former industrial building located at 2934 W. Lake Street along the Chicago Transit Authority’s elevated Green Line. CHIL’s new facility is centrally located, easily accessible by train or bus, located near key partner organizations, and will provide the organization with the space to expand.

At a total cost of $8.93 million, the acquisition and renovation of the 25,000-square-foot building were financed with donor funds, $3.3 million in New Markets Tax Credits from the Chicago Development Fund (with JPMorgan Chase as the equity investor), a $3 million loan from Covenant House International, and a $605,000 bridge loan from IFF to provide up-front capital as CHIL carries out a multi-year fundraising campaign. After acquiring the building, CHIL relied upon an owner’s representative from IFF to manage the pre-development phase of the project, which included developing a project budget, assembling the construction team, and overseeing the renovations once construction was underway.

Once complete in June, CHIL’s new facility will greatly enhance the breadth and depth of the organization’s work. The space will include 40 interim beds for youth experiencing homelessness that will more than triple the organization’s current capacity. The facility will also include new administrative offices, as well as a Youth Development Center with a learning lab, classrooms, recreation space, a group room for activities like art therapy, a cafeteria, and dedicated spaces for core programming (i.e., health and legal services, workforce development). To top it off, an herb and vegetable garden will provide young people with an opportunity to build skills while contributing to CHIL’s kitchen.

Covenant House: In-Depth

Covenant House’s roots trace back to the late 1960s, when a Franciscan priest moved into a tenement building in New York City’s East Village and began working with a network of friends and neighbors to offer assistance to youth experiencing homelessness. Once incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1972, the group began expanding both its footprint and its scope of services – acquiring additional buildings in New York, branching out to new locations throughout North America, and creating a continuum of care designed to support youth at every step of their journey to long-term stability. When Covenant House Illinois opened in 2017, it was the organization’s first location in a new state in 17 years.

To learn more about Covenant House International’s approach to ending youth homelessness, check out Shelter, a 2017 documentary produced by VICE featuring Covenant House New Orleans, then Executive Director Jim Kelly, and several extraordinary young people transitioning out of homelessness.

In a second phase of expansion at a later date, CHIL plans to add 20 more beds to the facility for longer term transitional housing, further increasing the organization’s capacity to meet the needs of young people experiencing homelessness.

“Many of the young people we work with have experienced abuse, violence, and trauma,” Kelly says. But what they share in common is how good and beautiful and brave they are. They’re also unbelievably resilient. Their phenomenal progress is the oxygen of our work.”

With a new facility designed specifically for CHIL’s needs, that phenomenal progress is likely to be accelerated among all those who enter the building.

“Moving to a new space will allow us to touch more lives and make a bigger impact in the homeless community for the ages of 18 to 24, but it represents more than just increased capacity,” says Maria Hightower, CHIL’s Director of Operations and Administration. “In our current location, there are no windows. Whether it’s sunny, raining, or snowing, you can’t tell the difference. Our new space will be filled with natural light, and that will impact the mood of staff and our young people. When they walk in and take in the beauty of the surroundings, they’ll know that they aren’t alone, that they are respected, and that they can move from homelessness to hope. That’s what the environment will communicate each and every day.”

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without IFF,” Kelly adds. “From helping us figure out how many square feet we’d need and identifying a location, to loaning us money for the project and acting as our representative throughout construction, everyone in the organization just brings a wonderful spirit to the work. What we do is hard, and working with people with the same spirit is a real gift.”