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Boystown's Center [of crime] on Halsted
165 reported crimes exacerbate
community tension, undermine benefit
Criminal behavior next door portend threat to safety of new senior center on the block
BY BOB ZULEY
Errant behavior by visitors to the Center on Halsted (CoH) community center is exacerbating community tension and undermining the many benefits that the CoH brings to the community.
Inside Publications has learned that 165 incidents of criminal behavior, including crimes of violence, have been reported to the Chicago Police Department (CPD) as having occurred at the CoH, 3656 N. Halsted St., between Nov. 26, 2007 and Nov. 10, 2013.
The link between crime rates in the community and the CoH began in August when Tom Elliott, spokesperson for the CoH, told ABC7 news that, “… I can confidently say the individuals that are committing crimes in the area are not coming here for our services."
At a community meeting two weeks ago, Maura McCauley, the city's director of Homeless Prevention, Policy, and Planning, said, “We have no concrete evidence that social services bring crime to the community.”
But a Freedom of Information request shows reported crimes that include 32 batteries, 41 assaults, three robberies, 32 thefts, seven narcotics crimes, three sex offenses, and 38 trespassing cases.
Beyond these documented crimes, there have undoubtedly been many additional crimes in CoH that have occurred but were not reported to CPD for a variety of reasons.
According to the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications and the authoritative Crime in Wrigleyville and Boystown website, there have also been other calls for service in which police responded to CoH but that did not result in completion of a case report - and in the strictly bureaucratic way that the Chicago tallies crimes rates, if there is no paperwork then there was no crime.
These documented crimes are particularly relevant because of the high rate of overall criminal activity in the Boystown and Wrigleyville areas of Lakeview and the current community tension related to the relocation of the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) to a densely populated residential neighborhood on Wellington Ave. The CoH and BYC serve many of the same youth.
Loud, unruly, and potentially confrontational behavior precludes the meek and fearful from taking advantage of CoH programming and services.
The proximity of a senior citizen residence presently under construction on the same block underscores the importance of highlighting the crimes that have been reported at the CoH and how the potential threat to the safety and well-being of seniors is being mitigated. If nothing is done to fix this situation the City will literally be housing pray at the doorstep of their predators.
Begun as Horizons in 1973, the CoH opened in 2007 and is the Midwest's largest, most comprehensive community center dedicated to advancing and securing the health and well-being of Chicago's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people with more than 1,000 community residents visiting the CoH every day.
Services include senior and youth programming, counseling, a state-of-the-art Cyber Center and computer classes, vocational training, and HIV testing. The building boasts a theater, gymnasium, meeting rooms, and a first floor cafe adjacent to the Whole Foods Market.
According to the Center's most recent IRS Form 990, ending June 30, 2012, the CoH reported a total revenue of $4,572,818 of which $3,836,048 was received in contributions and grants. Of this, $2,075,473 was received in governmental grants. With total expenses amounting to $5,070,645, it operated at a $497,827 deficit last year. CoH CEO Modesto Valle received $164,484 in reported compensation.
Of the Center's FY2013 operating budget of $6 million, 49% is expended on social services, 31% on public programs, and six percent on administrative costs. Of public programming, 41% is expended on career readiness, 23% on senior programming, and 12% each to the Cyber Center and community programs.
For the Center's social services budget, 61% is expended on HIV services, 18% on mental health services, and nine percent for youth programming that provides services to more than 1,000 young people from across Chicagoland in the areas of housing assistance, case management, crisis intervention, professional development, and leadership training.
It is the area of youth services that has drawn the ire of community critics as some feel that the CoH attracts violence-prone young adults from disadvantaged, gay-hostile areas of the city to Lakeview, a community well known to be particularly tolerant of gay and homeless persons.
It is the robust presence of a large GLBT population in the area that enable social service agencies such as the CoH, Howard Brown Health Center, BYC, and the Night Ministry to provide services to youth in need.
Youth programming at CoH consists of an after school program serving 250 GLBT and allied youth aged 13-24 weekly designed to support their transition to successful adulthood. Youth programming, budgeted at $1,031,952 last year, includes art and art therapy, recreational programming, and leadership development.
In a written statement, CoH spokesperson Tom Elliott told this newspaper, “Because [gay] people historically and presently face disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence as a result of their actual, or perceived, sexual orientation and gender identity, many patrons and visitors find that [CoH] is a safe and welcoming environment... while receiving necessary services for their individual health and development.”
Elliott adds that CoH staff, patrons, and visitors are bound by a “Code of Conduct” and “...has the responsibility to behave in a manner that is respectful and courteous and does not disrupt others or the operations of the organization.”
While CoH staff and hired uniformed security officers will work with police if necessary to detain individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others and illegal activities are reported to police, Elliott points out that the CoH does not disclose information or records about patrons to the public.
“Disclosing an individuals affiliation with [the CoH] could potentially put the individual at a greater risk of harm, especially when some [GLBT] people are disproportionally subject to higher rates of discrimination, violence, suicide, substance abuse, homelessness, sexual abuse, unemployment and other physical, mental, and emotionally disturbances,” Elliott explained.
“We will continue to work closely with the [CPD], our neighbors and partner organizations for a safer, more vibrant and prosperous East Lakeview community, and to ensure that [the CoH] remains a safe place for visitors, patrons, volunteers, and staff alike,” he said.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) told this newspaper that the CoH does not condone illegal activity and has historically cooperated with the police by signing complaints including some of the aforementioned police reports. “It is essential for all of our businesses and residents to cooperate with the police to make our community a safe place,” Ald. Tunney said in a written statement. He regularly meets with area social service agencies to ensure that they are being a good neighbor, taking accountability for what happens on their property, and address illegal activity in or around their business.
Lakeview businessman and 44th ward aldermanic candidate Mark Thomas said that not-for-profit service providers have become a huge business in Chicago but often cease to understand the community they're immersed in and need to take responsibility for who comes into their buildings.
“A lot of the non-profits don't monitor their youthful clients,” said Thomas. “Lakeview has always had a 'youth issue,' and non-profits must be responsible and hold clients responsible for their behavior including for what happens outside, beyond their front door. These organizations serve as a magnet to people in need of assistance, and we as a society owe our citizens health care. There's no question that youth are the issue. Are they attempting to address the behavioral issue?” Thomas asked. “Homelessness, mental illness, and drug use doesn't excuse people's behavior.”
“Lakeview is really good at arguing, not professionally facilitating the issue into a win/win situation,” Thomas observed. “The CoH belongs on Halsted St. but services sometimes bring problems. We have to get back to being a community and figure out a way to fix this, and not just name calling.”
While youth might be a component of the larger crime question in Lakeview, Thomas believes the loss of police through attrition and detailed outside of the district is equally as important. While the city is down 7-8% citywide in police personnel, according to Thomas, it is down 35% in Lakeview's 19th Dist. – a district that has a larger than usual number of retirement-ready officers.
On this point, Ald. Tunney is in apparent agreement. “We need to focus on the bigger picture and not just keep up with attrition,” Ald. Tunney wrote in his newsletter. “It is imperative to add more full-time officers to the CPD in order to have the necessary resources our city needs to provide an adequate long-term public safety plan.”
©2013 Inside Publications. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.