Welcome home, LGBTQ

By Aviva Einhorn

With an estimated 98,780 people currently living on the streets of Chicago, a new initiative to create safer housing could impact the lives of homeless LGBTQ and HIV-positive youth in the Humboldt Park community.

Vida/SIDA, a nonprofit organization that addresses the HIV and AIDS epidemic within Chicago’s Latino community, announced Jan. 21 that “El Rescate,” a new temporary housing program for the homeless youth, will open at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, 2703 W. Division St., on March 3. The program is part of PRCC’s Vida/SIDA initiative project.

Juan Calderon, director of Vida/SIDA, said El Rescate, which means “the rescue,” will focus on providing identity-affirming and culturally applicable housing for young adults ages 18–24.

“We’ve been working on the program for a while now,” Calderon said. “Rescate has been a two- to three-year planning initiative created to address the issue of homelessness in the Latino LGBTQ community, specifically among youth.”

According to Calderon, the initiative was created in response to the rising number of homeless youth in the Humboldt Park area during the last few years.

He said the space for the temporary housing facility will be on the fourth floor of the PRCC, which was previously rented as an apartment unit. The facility will include four bedrooms, a kitchen supplied with food and two bathrooms. In addition, the youth will be provided with resources to help them become employed and trained in living skills.

According to Calderon, the majority of funding for the project came from the Chicago Trust Fund, a philanthropic organization that supports local community programs and efforts.

“We will only be able to accommodate between eight and 10 youth,” he said. “Our goal is that we will continue to grow, [and] at this point we are limited with our resources, but the [youth] will be provided with basic needs.”

Calderon said applicants will go through an extensive interview process because space is limited. He said this will help determine which youth have the capacity to be part of the collaborative, independent living space where they will be expected to participate in household duties like cooking and cleaning.

So long as they are compliant, the youth chosen to stay in the facility will be allowed to stay until they are able to secure another means of housing.

“Previous to El Rescate, the space was used as a regular apartment, and we’ve been working to have everything in place and ready for the move in,” Calderon said. “We’re just doing the final touches, [and] we have about 20 youth who are interested in the project so far.”

Carlos De Jesus, assistant principal at Pedro Albizu Campos High School, an alternative high school in Humboldt Park, said he sees the issues of the LGBTQ youth community reflected in the high school’s student body. Affiliated with Vida/SIDA, the school focuses on students who have dropped out or have been kicked out of a previous school, he said.

“Through Vida/SIDA’s work with Pedro Albizu Campos, we’ve realized there are a number of gay and lesbian youth who upon ‘coming out’ are sometimes kicked out by their parents and end up homeless,” De Jesus said. “There is a whole host of issues related to that and the idea of [El Rescate] was to create a temporary living situation for homeless LGBTQ youth.”

According to De Jesus, another focus of the program is to provide education services for the prevention and intervention of HIV and AIDS, and other sexually transmitted infections, which are understated issues within the community.

Myra Cux, a nurse’s assistant and Humboldt Park resident, said she is grateful for the housing program and hopes that it will help solve the problem of homeless youth.

“Living here, you see more and more kids on the street every day,” Cux said. “I don’t know what these parents are thinking to put their kids out on the street, it’s not right. I hope programs like El Rescate can make a difference.”