The Chicago City Council voted unanimously on July 21 to approve a zoning change that would allow Breakthrough Urban Ministries to expand its violence prevention center into a former convenience store at 220 N. Homan Ave. 

The Violence Prevention Center, which currently occupies a first-floor retail space on the south side of the same building, at 214 N. Homan Ave., serves as a hub for Breakthrough’s violence prevention program and its other community outreach efforts.

The zoning change will allow the center to use all the retail space on the first floor. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), whose ward includes the building, said that the store “created many problems” in the community and he thought that Breakthrough would get a better use out of this space.

The building at 214-220 N. Homan Ave. is a two-story mixed-use building with eight apartments on the top and retail spaces on the bottom. According to property records, the 220 N. Homan Ave. has been home to several convenience stores — most recently, Ynk Food Mart. The space at 214 N. Homan Ave. hosted several fast food restaurants until Breakthrough Ministries began leasing it in 2019.

Originally based in Uptown, Breakthrough moved to East Garfield Park in 2000, operating a number of housing and family supportive services. The organization began working on violence prevention in 2017. In 2019, it was one of the 28 organizations on the South and West sides that received funding and training through the Community Partnering 4 Peace program.

The program aims to reduce violence by deescalating conflicts and providing services such as help finding work, mental health services and restorative justice programs. The Violence Prevention Center was established as part of the program, serving as a space where violence prevention workers can plan strategies and connect residents they work with to social services.

According to Breakthrough’s 2019 annual report, the building’s landlord saw the violence prevention team respond to an incident near the building and offered them the space free of charge.

As Nick Fitkaz, the attorney for the building owner, explained during the July 20 meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, commercial use wasn’t allowed under the building’s zoning, but Ynk Food Mart was grandfathered in. Since the space has been abandoned for over 18 months, the nonconforming use lapsed. Fitkaz said that Breakthrough can’t lease the entire first floor unless the building owner gets a zoning change.

Breakthrough did not respond to a request for comment by deadline. The renderings presented to the city show two large spaces in addition to the current space. While most first-floor windows are currently boarded up, the renderings show opened windows and doors.

During the July 20 meeting, Ervin expressed support for the expansion.

“It was a store that gave us many problems,” he said. “We’re glad the owners found a more suitable host for this location. It gets rid of a problematic corner store that existed in the community for years.”

For more information about Breakthrough’s Violence Prevention Center, visit https://breakthrough.org/violence-prevention-center/.