Lincoln Park Community Services triples its capacity to serve Chicagoans experiencing homelessness September 4, 2019

“Going from mats on the floor in a gym to this brand new, $15 million building is quite overwhelming.”

Rodrigo Carrillo smiled, then added, “It was pure joy to take guests through it for the first time. It really gave them a sense of hope when they walked into the building.”

Carrillo is the Executive Director of Chicago’s Lincoln Park Community Services (LPCS) — and the building he is so excited about is a gleaming new edifice, complete with a spectacular mural by local artist Sam Kirk, at 1521 North Sedgwick Street. IFF’s real estate solutions and lending teams played a role in helping LPCS purchase and build out the facility, which was completed in June 2019 and is LPCS’s second location in Lincoln Park.

LPCS has supported Chicagoans experiencing homelessness and poverty since 1985, when parishioners from four area churches decided to create an emergency shelter in one of the church’s basements. The organization now has a staff of 23 and a pool of about 1,600 dedicated volunteers working to not only provide interim housing, but also permanent housing and a range of services to address the root causes of homelessness and help people transition into more stable circumstances.

Currently, almost 70% locate a permanent place to live within a year.

“Homelessness includes multi-family living and couch-surfing because you can’t afford rent. As my friend and mentor, Sol Flores, always says, ‘It’s an experience, not an identity,’” Carrillo explains.

LPCS’s expansion triples its capacity to serve guests — a much-needed boost given the severe shortage of housing options for the 86,324 people in Chicago who, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, lack a fixed place to sleep. The new building adds 48 beds for interim housing to the 35 beds in the organization’s original location, as well as 20 units of permanent supportive housing to the 17 that LPCS was already providing at locations scattered throughout the city. Having those 20 new units in the same location is a huge plus for case managers, as it means less time traipsing around the city — and more time for clients.

The interim beds are in communal rooms on two spacious, window-lined floors of the rehabbed building, with guests who identify as men on one floor and those who identify as women on the other. Unlike many communal spaces for interim housing, LPCS’s has dividers between beds to provide guests with more privacy.

Interim guests participate in case management and select one of the organization’s programs focused on recovery, health, or workforce development. Those programs are all available on site, making it easy for guests to use the support available to them at LPCS to transition into sustainable housing. Currently, almost 70% locate a permanent place to live within a year.

Residents of the facility’s permanent housing units are in an addition that faces North Sedgwick. They need not participate in LPCS programming but can easily do so if they choose. Their units are subsidized; residents receive one-year leases tied to Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) vouchers that cover rent. Each unit is a state-of-the-art, 315-square-foot apartment filled with natural light and furnished with stylish, modern amenities and furniture that maximize the space. For example, a pull-down bed converts into a couch.

That commitment to beauty and functionality is evident throughout the new building, which also boasts:

  • A sun-drenched courtyard in the building’s center, where guests can convene for events or just step out for some fresh air.
  • A state-of-the-art kitchen and cafeteria, which makes it easier for LPCS’s all-volunteer cooks to prepare free meals for guests.
  • On-site laundry facilities for guests either staying at the facility or popping in — a service that those experiencing homelessness rarely receive and greatly appreciate.
  • A drop-in resource center where residents and walk-in guests alike can access information about a wide range of services available to them in the city (e.g., local food pantries, medical facilities, employment events, educational opportunities) and/or use a computer for activities like searching for a job or checking in with relatives on Facebook.
  • A full washroom accessible from the drop-in center so that visitors can shower — another seemingly small but significant service that can greatly improve visitors’ quality of life.
  • A medical room, which LPCS plans to use for health assessments, flu shots, and other services that a nurse practitioner might provide at some point in the future (LPCS is currently exploring potential partnerships with health care providers).
  • Focus rooms where guests can make private phone calls, engage in one-on-one counseling sessions, or simply relax and decompress in a comfortable chair by themselves.
  • Top floor offices for staff, complete with a private kitchen, a spacious conference room, and a wall of windows facing the courtyard — a huge perk for staff members.

IFF’s involvement in the project was multifaceted. It began a few years ago when LPCS asked IFF to help explore the costs, benefits, and financial and programming implications of expanding into a second Lincoln Park facility.

Armed with a better understanding of what might lie ahead, LPCS and IFF then worked together to find and select a property to purchase — not an easy task in Lincoln Park, an area of Chicago where available, affordable sites that are also flexible enough to house this type of facility are scarce.

Fortunately, according to Rene Barraza, the senior owner’s representative from IFF who led the search and then project managed the construction of the facility’s interim housing, “The third building we looked at was a perfect fit.”

They were truly involved in their mission and making the space reflect it, every step of the way.

MKB Architects, the team brought on to reconceptualize the space for LPCS, agreed. They likened the design process to a Rubik’s Cube puzzle; their concept clicked together, sometimes with just inches to spare to meet code requirements, as if the space had been made for LPCS’s needs. For example, it was important to separate interim and permanent housing so that residents of each would have ample privacy — and the lot was just big enough to accommodate a structure with two main sections on either side of the internal courtyard. The two are linked such that all residents have access to communal areas like the drop-in center and cafeteria, but only their respective housing area.

Separating the interim and permanent housing wings also carried over to the project’s financing. The development team, which included IFF, MKB, and Norcon, Inc. (the general contractor), pulled off a complex feat of oversight and collaboration, juggling two projects — each with its own financing solution and set of stakeholders — in one. LPCS received grants through the Illinois Housing Development Authority and the city of Chicago for the permanent housing side. In addition, as a member institution of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago (FHLBC), IFF sponsored $300,000 granted to LPCS through the FHLBC’s Affordable Housing Program.

Meanwhile, IFF and the Corporation for Supportive Housing jointly financed the interim housing side through loans of $2.875 million and $1.5 million, respectively, to propel the project forward while LPCS launched a capital campaign to help cover those loans.

LPCS flexed along the way to ensure that the space would be as delightful as possible for guests and residents. “They created a wish list of things — stone window sills, a roof deck, a medical room — and put it all into the contract with an assigned cost,” explains Barraza. “And then, as the project went along and they fundraised, they were able to add in some of those key details. They were truly involved in their mission and making the space reflect it, every step of the way.”