West Siders who are experiencing a mental health crisis or simply feeling overwhelmed can stop by a one-of-a-kind resource to relax and  get some help. 

The Renaissance Living Room, at 5244 W. Chicago Ave., looks more like a home than a doctor’s office, with chairs, tables, couches and warm lighting. 

The facility is designed to provide a low-pressure, calming environment. Anyone who comes in can talk to one of the recovery support specialists, typically people who have experienced mental health challenges in the past and are trained to help people in similar situations. If visitors are interested, they can also get help from trained therapists and get connected to other resources. All services are free and confidential. 

The Living Room opened in the midst of the pandemic, so much of their work has happened over the phone. But as the COVID-19 restrictions eased, they have been able to accept more in-person clients. 

Currently, anyone can walk in between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., or call or text ahead of time. The Living Room plans to move into a larger space at 4835 W. Chicago Ave., closer to the intersection of Chicago and Cicero avenues, which will allow it to expand hours and see even more clients.

The Living Room is an extension of Renaissance Social Services, 2501 W. Washington Blvd., a nonprofit that launched in 1997 to help low-income Chicagoans keep their homes. The nonprofit has since expanded into other services, including providing physical and mental health resources. 

Michael Banghart, the nonprofit’s executive director, said that his organization noticed that “a significant cluster” of clients lived on the West Side. The nonprofit wanted to bring its services to Austin, but in a way that responded to the community’s most urgent needs.

Banghart said that the organization consulted West Side United’s strategic plan, as well as the Austin Quality of Life Plan spearheaded by the Austin Coming Together coalition. 

“Three years ago, when we were working on the strategic plan, one of the goals was to be more responsive to what we were seeing, the needs in the community,” Banghart said. “The Austin and West Garfield Park area had the highest amount of crime and poverty, as well as a lot of health needs, but not many mental health resources.”

Banghart said the nonprofit’s long-term goal is to open a facility they would share with interested West Side service organizations.

“We will continue to talk and listen to what people want and see what role we can play in the area,” he said. “We’re not the saviors of Austin. We want to see where we can fit into a bigger solution and make things better.”

The Living Room is currently operating out of a space that it leases from the Westside Health Authority. Banghart said that they are tentatively planning to have a grand opening in the new space, which will also be leased from WHA, on Aug. 16 at noon. They plan to move into the new space before then, he said. 

As part of the expansion, the Living Room is looking to hire recovery support specialists and social workers from Austin.  

Interested residents can call or text at (312) 350-2784. For more information about Renaissance Living Room, visit https://www.renaissancelivingroom.org/.

Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...