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LETTER Howard Brown Health and Humboldt Park

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To: Sol A. Flores

Executive Director

La Casa Norte

Dear Ms. Flores:

We, the undersigned residents and LGBT leaders of the Humboldt Park community, are deeply concerned about the possibility of Howard Brown Health ( HBH ) coming to our community and setting up shop without engaging in a communication process that involved having conversations and reaching out to community stakeholders and leaders doing critical work in Humboldt Park.

It is unfortunate that we had to find out about this possible arrangement through social media and not through direct outreach or communication from La Casa Norte or HBH. We not only find it extremely disturbing but also disrespectful, given the historical challenges that LGBT communities of color have had to undergo in interfacing with the larger mainstream LGBT organizations, like Howard Brown.

Howard Brown perfected the art of Walmart-ization on the South Side community of Englewood. As a large LGBT organization, Howard Brown leveraged its mass resources and muscled community-based organizations out of the picture. Without regard to organic, community efforts of those living and working in the community, the North Side agency landed in Englewood, opened its doors and sucked the oxygen out of the funding landscape—in essence, a form of institutional gentrification.

While Walmart marshals its treasure to drive out small, local business owners and dominate retail, Howard Brown has successfully copied this model by monopolizing communities' access to healthcare funds from local, state and federal health agencies. Both have tragic consequences on the lives of communities and indigenous leadership.

Howard Brown is now maneuvering to open for business in Humboldt Park. Without consulting local Puerto Rican/Latino, LGBT leaders and institutions that have engaged in this work for decades, Howard Brown is reopening its Englewood playbook and taking it to the Puerto Rican/Latino community. While needed resources are always welcome, the paternalistic attitude of riding in on its white horse to save the community is a well-worn trope. There is no hint of respect for what the community has accomplished and no desire to work with its recognized leadership. There is no reason to believe Howard Brown will build on and complement the successes of the community's decades of experience working with ( as well as being a part of ) the LGBT community in Humboldt Park.

This tragic misstep is evidence that Howard Brown lacks the humility and respect to the indigenous LGBT leadership in the Puerto Rican/Latino community of Humboldt Park. And what is most disturbing is that the president/CEO of Howard Brown is of Latino descent and should have known better in terms of engaging our community given the historical challenges communities of color have faced with larger mainstream LGBT organizations. This is not only appalling, but also not acceptable.

While HBH deserves recognition for its pioneering work at the dawn of the AIDS pandemic, it did minimal work in Latino communities. In Humboldt Park, homegrown community organizers scrambled to strain resources to serve a mostly overlooked area of the city that was one of the hardest hit by the AIDS crisis in the nation. Our people were dying. Thirty years later, Vida/SIDA still provides critical, life-affirming services from the heart of Humboldt Park. A spinoff of Vida/SIDA, fashioned by many of the same people, is El Rescate—the Midwest's first transitional housing program for LGBTQA youth.

The Humboldt Park community boasts in our indigenous leadership that led to the furthering of LGBTQ projects and initiatives. For HBH to set up establish operations in the heart of our community without so much as an email is a considerable sign of disrespect at best, and a hostile attempt to go Walmart on Humboldt Park at worst.

Based on HBH's history with this community, we expect the worst. In 2012, HBH approached the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC ) to collaborate on a federal grant that targeted the health of the Latino transgender community of Chicago. HBH recognized the PRCC's long-standing and successful work with this vulnerable sector of the Latino community. After the two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding ( MOU ), HBH received essential data from the PRCC, and shortly thereafter exercised its right under a clause to terminate the MOU. HBH made sure it was the sole recipient of the large federal grant. While that might have been legally defensible, it was morally reprehensible.

We are strongly opposed to having HBH in our community and want to work with you and La Casa Norte to develop alternative solutions that are indigenous in nature. We, the leaders of Humboldt Park's LGBTQ community, call on HBH to cease and desist its plan to roll out a health center in Humboldt Park. While HBH is welcome to collaborate and complement the decades of success the Puerto Rican/Latino community has enjoyed through the past decades, we reject any and all attempts to sweep aside the effective, organically driven work the community has developed, which has inspired articles, scholastic research and countless presentations at national health conferences.

Thank you and we look forward to meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss our concerns about Howard Brown. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ruben D. Feliciano at 312-414-5814.


Jessie Fuentes, co-chair, Puerto Rican Agenda; Ruben D. Feliciano, co-chair, Puerto Rican Agenda Housing Committee; Juan M. Calderon, chief operating officer, Puerto Rican Cultural Center; Janeida Fuentes, Puerto Rican Agenda National Boricua Human Rights Network; Leony Calderon, Nelson Rodriguez and Zenaida Lopez, community residents and LGBT leaders; Lisa Cruz, TransChicago-Humboldt Park; Roxanne Pixley, TransChicago and business owner; Ricardo Jimenez, program director, Vida/SIDA; Jesus Hernandez Burgos, TransChicago-Humboldt Park; Roberto Sanabria, Vida/SIDA co-founder & LGBT leader; and Doris Rodriguez and Maritxa Vidal, TransLatina Coalition

Cc: David Munar, Howard Brown Health Center

Howard Brown Health and La Casa Norte issued a joint response:

To whom it may concern:

La Casa Norte's new residential and community center is the culmination of many years of planning and hard work to further the organization's mission assisting families and youth facing homelessness.

The new site will make available 25 units of supportive housing to assist families and youth in rebuilding their lives. The new facility will house numerous social services and anchor La Casa Norte's central administration of its citywide services. Because of its pioneering work serving LGBTQ and homeless youth through the Broadway Youth Center, Howard Brown Health has been invited to establish a satellite clinic at La Casa Norte's new location so residents and existing La Casa Norte clients may benefit from onsite clinical care.

Standard to all Howard Brown locations, patients may receive full-spectrum primary care on a sliding scale, ranging from $0 to $25, based on income. No one will be turned away because of their inability to pay. Howard Brown's clinics are led by members of their local communities and each site works closely with community leaders to respond to needs on the ground, a priority embraced in the development of the new location at La Casa Norte.

As we plan our new collaboration, both organizations remain deeply committed to partnership with other groups and residents devoted to fighting homelessness and healthcare inequities facing communities of color, immigrants, youth, families and LGBTQ people.


Sol Flores, Executive Director

La Casa Norte

David Ernesto Munar

President/CEO, Howard Brown Health

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