Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Can You Help Me?"

"Can you help me?" Those four words can conjure up many thoughts and emotions in different people. For some, it reminds them of someone asking for a hand out; asking them to give up something they worked for or their hard earned down time just so someone else can get a free ride. The question may come to you in different ways. Can you spare a quarter? Do you have anything to give? Can you come spend time with me? No matter how the question is posed, we've all been asked in some way at one time or another. And if I'm being honest, I've been on the end of that question and thought, "Why?". Why can't you just take care of yourself? Why do I have to be brought into this? I can't tell you why someone needs your help or why they are there in front of you in need. But what I can tell you is what is at the core of my heart and the entire reason that I devote my time to the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.

It doesn't matter why. It doesn't matter why someone needs your help or what brought them to asking you. What matters is, "Can you help me?" For me, those four words pull at the very essence of being human. The idea that someone, no matter who, needs your help or is lacking in some way - that is enough to reach out. At some point, somewhere, we've all been in need. Hopefully few of us will know what it means to be in a position where we have to reach out to strangers for help. But, luckily, we all know what the generosity of another can do for us in our time of need. Help from someone doesn't relieve us from our responsibilities or mean we can take the day off. Help means we have support and we have a chance to get on our feet. Help can be just what we needed to believe in ourselves again.

It's true that some people hear "Can you help me?" and ask themselves what they are going to get out of it. If you volunteer with the Lincoln Park Community Shelter, you are going to get joy, appreciation in the eyes of their Guests, and incredible gratitude from both the Guests and the staff. And while this has been a gift for me over the last six months, the biggest thing I get out of helping is the progress I see. No one took anything from me, or asked for a handout. They needed just a little more than they had on their own in that moment. And with it, they grew and helped in return. No matter how you look at the answer to the question; "Can you help me?" you can rest assured that the help of another person is the greatest benefit you will receive and can give.

And if you still find yourself pausing to answer someone in need, remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded."

By: Tyler Lewis, LPCS Volunteer

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Protecting the Safety Net to Prevent Homelessness

LPCS Staff, Guests, Graduates, and Volunteers recently attended a press conference and rally in support of the tenants of the Chateau Hotel, who are facing eviction and displacement.

Last Thursday, I had the privilege to speak out against an injustice happening in our neighborhood, in the hopes of preventing over 70 low-income people from becoming homeless, right here in our backyard.

The Chateau Hotel is one of the last remaining “SRO” hotels on the north side. SRO stands for single room occupancy. Usually, these buildings rent small rooms, without kitchens and with or without private bathrooms, at very affordable rates by the day, week, or month.

The Chateau Hotel, and others like it, provides a critical safety net for people who have very low income. Although the rooms are small, the rent is affordable, and it gives residents access to the vibrant network of resources in our community. It also gives residents the dignity of their own personal space to call “home.” The importance of that should never be underestimated.

The Chateau has a troubled past; run for years by a disengaged landlord, it fell into disrepair and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in fines in the City’s building court. The Chateau, however, was recently sold, and just last week the major maintenance issues within the Chateau have been resolved. However, the new owner has announced his intent to renovate the building and increase rental rates by 60%. In the meantime, its current tenants are being displaced from their homes with nowhere to go, and won’t be able to afford to return when the building reopens.

Advocates at Lakeview Action Coalition, of which LPCS is a member, see this as an opportunity to improve the living conditions of the building, while preserving its affordability. We need to call on our elected officials, including north side Aldermen and the Mayor, to make a commitment to preserving this critical safety net housing. This has been done successfully over and over again; formerly run-down SRO hotels have been rehabbed and reopened as well-managed, affordable housing. Check out the BelRay Apartments, the Diplomat Hotel, and Harvest Commons for a few examples. These buildings provide real solutions to homelessness, and directly benefit LPCS Guests. A number of LPCS Graduates live at the BelRay, and one LPCS Guest has plans to move into Harvest Commons as soon as the paperwork is approved!

Every night, there are over 6,500 people in Chicago who are homeless. If they are lucky, they are one of 5,300 people who have room or a bed at a temporary shelter, one like the Lincoln Park Community Shelter. However, that leaves over 1,200 people each night who are living on someone’s couch, in an abandoned building or a car, riding the trains, or even sleeping in the parks.

We can’t afford more homelessness in our city or our community. The system is already at capacity, and overloaded. Many shelters, including LPCS, have long waiting lists to get in. Once homeless, it is very difficult to regain your footing, and a long and complicated journey out of homelessness. The more barriers you have, such as a disability, inconsistent work history, criminal record, or eviction history, the harder it is, and the more at risk you are of falling through the cracks completely. One of the best ways to address homelessness in our city is to prevent it from happening when at all possible.

The residents of the Chateau are in danger of becoming homeless, a tragedy that can be avoided.
We also call on the owner to stop displacing tenants immediately. We call on Ald. James Cappleman and Mayor Emanuel to work with us to secure a commitment from the new owner to stop displacing our neighbors here at the Chateau and preserve the building as affordable SRO housing. The Alderman has the power to drop the fines that have accrued, if and only if the building can be preserved and improved for our neighbors who rely on it as an affordable home.

--Erin Ryan, Executive Director

Read more about the Chateau Hotel and our efforts to save it here and here.
Find out more about Lakeview Action Coalition.

Note: As a community-based agency serving people who have often been disenfranchised, LPCS takes its role as an advocate seriously. We are members of Lakeview Action Coalition, and as such LPCS staff members, Guests, and Graduates stay involved in systems issues such as affordable housing, access to health care, and livable wage employment. If you are interested in getting involved in one of these issues, including the preservation of housing like the Chateau Hotel, please feel free to contact me at

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Marnee's Story

Good Morning. My name is Marnee and I am a graduate of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter and I am here to tell you why LPCS is important to me. There are three main reasons.

After floundering for awhile, I came to the Lincoln Park Community Shelter from another shelter, so first what made LPCS important was the ability to stay longer than 4 months.  I was going back to school and needed to have a home base for longer than that.  Most shelters are for 4 months.  Once you move in you almost immediately have to start looking for another place for after those 4 months.  These places are not easy to find or once found not easy to get into.  Luckily for me, LPCS had an undesignated amount of time stay.  This lifted a lot of stress off of me.  I was there for 11 months.  

Secondly, in that time I found I had an opportunity to work on me.  LPCS has several programs to help you and move yourself in the direction you want to go.  I had some emotional and physical problems that I vigorously worked on.  I took advantage of the groups and programs offered and started to build a foundation and for the first time in my life laid down a path to work on that I am still following today.  

And thirdly ……They found me a place (EHP) to continue on.  After 11 months I did what I could and they did what they could for me.  My case worker at the time found me another program to help me further. 
Today I am now secure.  I am on social security disability; I have a roof over my head, food in the refrigerator, and a bus pass in my pocket.  For the first time in my life I can honestly say I’m ok, and it feels great.

I could not have done what I have achieved without the aid of LPCS.

Thank you God for this moment and thank you all for listening.

Friday, March 1, 2013

March Volunteer Spotlight - Boris Hartl

I am thrilled to have Boris as our March Volunteer Spotlight! He has been a friend and a supporter of the Lincoln Park Community Shelter for several years in a number of different capacities. We chose Boris as our Spotlight this month because he has demonstrated that a strong volunteer gives more than just their time; they offer skills, ideas, and go above and beyond for our Guests!

As an ongoing volunteer, Boris leads our Computer Classes and tutoring. He is the Senior Marketing Specialist for, and therefore has a lot of great insight as to online resources and computer skills. Our Guests have been assisted with web design, excel, power point, resume drafting, job applications, and much more because of Boris. Boris also offers tutoring, where he will work one on one with Guests in any specific skills that they are hoping to hone.

When a particular Guest suggested that she was interested in getting a job in web design or content marketing, not only did Boris help her work on these skills, but he even made outside connections with people in the field so that she could network and start applying for open positions.

On top of these regular Friday computer classes, Boris has also provided very special entertainment for our Guests. He has arranged for several music performances at LPCS by himself (guitar) and his friends that are in bands. He even did this on New Years Eve this year, choosing to spend the time with our Guests rather than celebrate elsewhere.

Boris is a great friend to the Guests of LPCS, the Staff, and the Graduates. We are thrilled to have him as our March Spotlight and look forward to all that he will continue to bring to our Guests!