During the past three years, Humboldt Park has seen a steep increase in the number of youths who have been tossed out onto the street after coming out to their families as gay or lesbian.
Due to the rise, a new housing program called El Rescate or, The Rescue in English, opened the doors to a new shelter March 3 in the hopes to combat the issue by providing temporary homes for these discarded youth.
The housing center sits on the top floor of a four-story brick building at 2703 W. Division St. that houses Vida/SIDA, El Rescate’s public health focused parent organization.
Currently, the center houses just one formerly homeless teen, but workers are sorting through applications from more than 30 LGBT homeless youth in Chicago between the ages of 18 and 24. The center hopes to fill 10 vacant spots by the end of the month.
The program will provide “culturally appropriate, identity-affirming” housing, and will help youngsters get back on their feet with education and job skills training.
Executive director of the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance Carlos Hernandez is a gay man and Kelvyn Park High School Principal Anna Pavichevich is a lesbian woman, and said the program is filling a void in the community.
"Nowhere else in other communities of color would you find a strong leadership that are openly LGBT," said Juan Calderon director of the El Rescate program.
According to Calderon, the community as a whole is actually becoming more LGBT friendly, and many prominent leaders in the neighborhood have come out as gay or lesbian. Anti-gay abuse suffered by Humboldt "ark youth are not necessarily reflective of a trend towards a more intolerant community, he said.
However, the surge in LGBT positive role models has yielded some unforeseen consequences when confronted with the older, more conservative members of the community who still hold strong beliefs on issues of sexuality.
LGBT public figures have helped create an environment that allows members of the community to feel comfortable coming out at a younger age than a few years ago, Calderon said. Unfortunately, many of these youngsters still live at home with their parents and grandparents who remain resistant to change, and are unwilling to accept the modern views of sexual orientation held by their children.
Thus, Calderon said a steadily growing stream of youth are spilling into the streets forced to fend for themselves.
In 2007, almost a quarter of all homeless youth in Cook County self-identified as LGBT according to report published by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Calderon said that figure has only continued to grow.
“The problem has always existed, but we just saw a larger number of youth getting kicked out of their homes about three years ago, and we as a community decided to take it head on and adjust this problem that continues to impact our community,” Calderon said.
Calderon hopes to be able to expand the project to keep up with the growing demand for housing, but acquiring funding has been an issue.
If the center can successfully raise enough funds and jump through all the zoning hoops, Vida/SIDA would relocate to the vacant building next door and reach its goal of housing 30 people.
“It’s going to take a village to make sure that our most vulnerable population get the services that are needed,” Calderon said.