The Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the zoning variations and Special Use permits that will allow the currently Humboldt Park-based Connections for Abused Women and their Children (CAWC) domestic violence victim services and advocacy organization to move its shelter and offices to East Garfield Park.
The organization is in the process of buying an industrial building at 3311 W. Carroll Ave., which was last used as artist studios. It plans to remodel the building to house administrative offices and social service spaces and build a three-story addition to serve as a 45-bed shelter with outdoor patios and laundry facilities.
Stephanie Love-Patterson, CAWC executive director, told the zoning board on March 17 that its current offices in Humboldt Park, 1116 N. Kedzie Ave., and a domestic violence shelter in a confidential location in Wicker Park are struggling to meet demand as the service grows, and they have no space to expand. While several nonprofits which worked with her organization in the past voiced support, the project also faced opposition from residents of the new location who argued that this particular block already had plenty of social service facilities, and worried that it would lead to the increase in the number of emergency service calls.
The building is at least 100 years old. It was home to several different industrial uses. Most recently, it served as an art studio, hosting workshops and exhibition spaces for artists as recently as early 2020.
Launched in 1977, CAWC opened Chicago’s very first domestic violence shelter and set up the city’s first 24-hour domestic violence hotline. Their current shelter, the Greenhouse Shelter, has 42 beds. The organization provides court advocacy, mental health counseling for kids and adults, and help with getting jobs and more permanent housing, among other services. CAWC has relationships with nearby hospitals and addiction treatment centers, and it works with other nonprofits to provide services outside its scope.
Love-Patterson told the zoning board that the Greenhouse Shelter building is showing its age and, because it’s in a historic district, they can’t significantly modify it or expand it.
“We cannot tear it down to make it what we really want it to be, and what our residents and staff want it to be and deserve, in terms of just quality space for our services, where there’s privacy and there’s just access to growth,” she said.
The Humboldt Park space, which occupies the fifth floor of the building, where they provide services and where CAWC administrative offices are currently located, faces a similar problem – no room to grow, even as demand for services rises.
Love-Patterson said the new facility will allow them to put all of their operations under one roof, offer more space and offer amenities they don’t currently have space for – including a technology center for their clients and a kennel for pets. For many victims of domestic violence, she said, not being able to take their pets to a domestic violence shelter is a “huge barrier” to leaving an abusive environment.
CAWC chose this part of East Garfield Park because it wasn’t far from their current facilities, there are CTA and Metra train stations and bus routes nearby, and it’s close to Beidler Elementary School, 3151 W. Walnut St., Morton School of Excellence, 431 N. Troy St., and Westinghouse College Prep high school, 3223 W. Franklin Blvd.
“We don’t want to abandon the current location and the community that we serve,” Love-Patterson said. “This location would allow us to maintain that footprint.”
CAWC had to get Special Use permits to operate a domestic violence shelter and provide social services in a new location, and it had to get some zoning variances to accommodate the design.
Project architect George Kisiel responded to the concerns CAWC got from some of the residents about the facility’s impact. He testified that his research showed that the East Garfield Park community area ranks 13th in terms of the number of social service providers with 72 facilities.
“This puts East Garfield Park behind the Near West Side and the Loop, which has more than twice as many at 170 and 149, respectively,” he said.
Kisiel also looked at domestic violence shelters specifically and found that East Garfield Park was tied with Logan Square, Lakeview, West Town (which includes Wicker Park) and Near North Side (which includes some of the most well-off neighborhoods in Chicago and the remnants of the Cabrini-Green public housing development).
“Based on this analysis and my experience with social service facilities over my 40-year career, there’s no evidence that the presence of this type of facility has negative impacts on the communities or the neighborhoods,” he said. “In fact, they tend to be stabilizing forces, particularly in areas that have experienced factors contributing to blight, such as vacancies, depressed land values and disinvestment.”
Heads of several social service organizations that work with CAWC testified in support of the project.
“Without a doubt, Chicago would benefit greatly from the project’s centralized location in the city,” said Linda Tortolero, CEO of Mujeres Latinas en Accion. “Survivors would travel less distances and be near to their loved ones and their neighborhoods. Our city survivors should have access to safety and warmth close to where they live and know. I strongly urge you to support CAWC’s project.”
Amanda Pyron, executive director of The Network – Advocating Against Domestic Violence, an umbrella organization that includes CAWC, argued that East Garfield Park would benefit from having a shelter.
“When you look at homicide statistics for 2022, you’ll see that Garfield Park has the highest rate of domestic violence homicides in the city,” she said. “We’ve done the analysis and we know that neighborhoods that have domestic violence services located in that neighborhood have lower rate of domestic violence homicides, so we know that, if CAWC moves into the Garfield Park area, that they’ll have a huge impact on that neighborhood and eventually, they’ll reduce the number of domestic violence homicides experienced by individuals in Garfield Park,”
Gary Marks, who lives at and owns several residential buildings on the 3000 block of West Carroll Avenue, said that, while he didn’t want to oppose a domestic violence shelter, he believed that it wasn’t the right location for it. Breakthrough Urban Ministries has several buildings nearly, including the Fresh Market food pantry, 3334 W. Carroll Ave., Women’s Center transitional housing and support services at 3330 W. Carroll Ave., and Breakthrough’s FamilyPlex facility, 3219 W. Carroll Ave., which includes a preschool, a fitness center and a primary care clinic. Marks said that people form long lines when the food pantry is open, and the Women’s Center gets emergency service calls an average of once a week. He said he and some of his tenants and neighbors worry that the shelter would lead to more police calls and make people less interested in building market-rate residential housing in the area.
“On this block, that already has a pantry, that already has a shelter, it has a huge community center, and it’s great, it has a gym – but why are we the only block?” Marks asked. “If someone could build the building where they could live, and someone would dare to open a business — that’s what would excite me.”
Urban planner Steven Vance, who owns and lives in a two-flat at the nearby 3200 block of Walnut Street, said that, while he agreed with Marks about the need for more businesses, he argued that “this use does not preclude, inhibit or occupy any land that could be used for retail or other services in the future.”
“Also, as a property owner and someone who is deeply familiar with the standards for approving Special Use, I have absolutely no concerns about the negative impact to the neighborhood that might arise from this use,” he said.
Full disclosure: Steven Vance is a co-founder and editor at large at Streetsblog Chicago, for which this reporter is a regular freelance contributor.