By: Jake Schell (Loyola Senior)
Although New Life Interim Housing, located off of North Howard Street, has struggled to meet its $800,000 fundraising goal, directors remain hopeful that continued donations will allow for much-needed renovations.
New Life Interim Housing Shelter has offered its support services since 1991. Although originally only serving women and children in the North Howard area, the shelter opened its doors to men and their families in 2012. Now, the 36-person capacity shelter supports Chicagoans of all backgrounds from all over the city.
Kelvin Johnson, director of New Life Interim Housing, is deeply devoted to the people he helps. Of the state of homelessness, he said, “There are families, there are men trying to be men, and everything is stacked up against them.”
The shelter operates under its parent organization, Good News Partners, which strives to provide residents with the means to find permanent housing, as well as avoid falling into another shelter. New Life Interim Housing is just the first step in a carefully-planned housing continuum.
After their time at the New Life Interim Housing Shelter, families are moved to single-room occupancy studios at the Jonquil Hotel, after which they are connected to affordable, rent-controlled apartments owned by Good News Partners.
Past housing, the shelter also strives to build the integrity of the whole person, setting up residents for continued success throughout their lives.
Johnson said, “Being homeless is traumatic. It’s traumatic if you’re the parent. It’s traumatic if you’re the child. So it’s not only to house people with dignity but to give them a start for their new life with new skill sets.”
In addition to housing, the shelter provides meals. In addition, they partner with other organizations, like Chicago HOPES for Kids, to provide tutoring and after-school programming in music and art. Further partnerships provide spiritual, medical, and behavioral health services.
Ernesta Williams, assistant director of the shelter, shares Johnson’s commitment to the shelter’s residents. One former resident now lives in consistent housing and works as a CTA supervisor.
Williams said, “She always says that that name, New Life, is exactly what it is — a new life. She gives kudos to Good News Partners because she’s another person. She’s a grandmother now, and she’s happy with herself.”
Johnson emphasizes that although they are thankful to provide the services that they do, funding remains an issue.
Private donations and fundraising allow Good News Partners to provide its residents with the lowest rents on the north side of Chicago. However, he also said, “We get no government funding for any of the other parts of the housing continuum. That’s why donations are so important.”
Following unforeseen COVID-19 precautions as well as permitting expenses, the shelter has changed its original goal of $600,000 to $800,000, of which they’ve now raised just $300,000. Now, they hope that continued exposure can persuade more people to donate to the shelter.
Originally repurposed from an old auto garage built in the 1920s, the building is in desperate need of basic infrastructure, including A/C, electrical, and plumbing systems.
Williams describes the shelter as an “inferno” in the summer and stresses the desperate need for an A/C system. Past that, the building is equipped with skylights that leak profusely when it rains. And the 1920s infrastructure doesn’t allow for an adequate electrical system for the phones and devices vital to modern careers, communication, and living.
The last primary renovation is the bathrooms, which are not ADA accessible. Previous residents in wheelchairs have needed to be carried and held while showering or using the bathroom.
Johnson said, “We need to do the bathroom. There are some people who have physical challenges, and where do they go? Who’s here for them?”
In addition to the primary goals of an A/C unit, patched roofs, and updated electrical system and bathrooms, Johnson and Williams hope to eventually renovate the entire shelter. Secondary renovations include a new children’s playroom and individual family life pods, which would offer families more safety, privacy, and integrity.
Although short of their goal, the shelter plans to start the primary renovations in the coming months. And with continued fundraising from people in the area, Johnson is hopeful that the secondary renovations are within reach. And even for those who can’t donate, he says that the shelter is also in need of grant-writing and life coach volunteers.
Johnson said, “I do live in the future. I do have a good god. And my good god says that somebody can provide that money. It can be done.”
To donate or get involved, residents are encouraged to visit the following links: