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One of Chicago’s oldest churches will now become an LGBT homeless youth centre

Emma Powys Maurice December 6, 2019

The former church will soon serve Chicago's LGBT homeless (Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago)

One of Chicago’s oldest churches will soon be transformed into one of the only holistic, queer-friendly centres for the LGBT homeless at-risk youth in the city.

The Black Methodist for Church Renewal has stood in the heart of Chicago’s South Side since 1926. The 12,000-square-foot space remained empty for years after the congregation moved to a new venue, with the site’s owners refusing to sell it until they found a worthy buyer.

It’s now home to the LYTE Collective, a social organisation dedicated to helping the more than 16,000 homeless youth in the city. Around 30 percent of Chicagoans aged between 15 and 24 live below the poverty line, with the bulk of them living on the South and West sides.

“There are very few spaces for young people across the city already, and for LGBTQ youth in particular, and we wanted to plant the flag and say that this is where everyone’s welcome,” founding member Carl Wiley told Block Club Chicago.

“We’re all going to respect each other in here, and we’re all going to figure out what our next steps are in terms of housing, employment, therapy.”

When the centre opens in summer 2020 it will include a music studio, an art studio, a gym, computer lab, performance stage, teaching kitchen, co-working space, an on-site clinic and 250 storage units.

Although the centre is queer-friendly the services are available to all young people facing homelessness in Chicago, not just the LGBT homeless.

 

A blueprint for the centre, which has been dubbed the LYTE Lounge (lytecollective.org)

“It’s not enough to just give them a place to hang out,” Wiley said. “They need something to do, someone to talk to. We wanted to provide them a space where they could explore the things they were interested in.”

Construction began several weeks ago and neighbours have pitched in to help with the project. Jerome Davis, who lives across the street, watched the building deteriorate for decades but has now come out of retirement to help “keep the neighbourhood looking good.”

“God gave me this building to take care of. It may not be mine, but it will be beautiful,” he said.

The LYTE Collective has already raised $2 million to cover renovations, but is still $340,000 short of their total goal. Those interested in supporting the project can donate here.

More: Chicago, Illinois, LGBT homeless

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