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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Project Fierce Chicago buys building in North Lawndale
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-08-28

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PIt's all smiles these days at Project Fierce Chicago ( PFC ), but now the real work starts—and that's a good thing.

Project Fierce Chicago—which promotes itself as a grassroots collective of radical social workers, youth advocates and other community members who are working together to establish community-driven, identity-affirming housing in Chicago—announced in late August that it had purchased a four-flat building on Chicago's Southwest Side that will eventually be home to LGBTQ young people experiencing homelessness.

"I couldn't be more exited, and grateful," said Cassandra Avenatti, the founder and a leadership team member for Project Fierce Chicago. "We have worked incredibly hard for nearly three years on this project, and to have it begin to realize is so fulfilling. We have all labored as unpaid volunteers while balancing paid employment, activism and personal lives, and through everything, have challenged ourselves and each other to be accountable to our ideals, and to remain hopeful about what is possible outside of traditional non-profit systems. This is what community looks like."

Renovation on the building will begin soon and continue through the fall. The hope is to be open to residents by next winter, Avenatti said.

There are several renovation projects to tackle, including bringing down and building new, safe back porches, and kitchen and bathroom renovations.

Renovations will cost about $75,000 to get the building prepared for residents.

"The building will have three flats of housing for LGBTQ-identified young adults experiencing homelessness and a live-in resident advocate," Avenatti said. "The garden flat will house our administrative office and an additional office available to an allied grassroots organization, at a low-cost donation."

Avenatti, 31, lives in rural Indiana, although she travels to Chicago for PFC meetings, events and engagements. She grew up in rural Indiana, and after moving to cities around the world for a few years, she moved to Chicago in 2007 and lived there for 8 years. Avenatti is partnered to trans Latino tech geek and writer Asher Diaz, who works in higher education, she said.

"The purchase of this building is the culmination of more than two years of organizing, fundraising and community-building, and countless hours of work, all done by volunteers," Avenatti said. "I've been on the verge of joyful tears since we signed [for] the building. We've spent countless hours, sweat and tears on this project, and to see it come to fruition, with people [who] I deeply love and respect, is magical. The fact that we've done all of this solely with and for community, outside of systems we find problematic, is even more satisfying."

PFC raised more than $125,000 over the past two years, largely from small, individual donations.

The building ultimately will provide transitional housing for about 10 LGBTQ-identified young adults experiencing homelessness.

"The program is designed as a longer-term transitional program, with the goal of supporting young folks in transition to living independently. The initial term for the program is two years, and we will have a support/accountability buddy meetings with residents monthly to help support the achievement of their stated goals," Avenatti said. "There will be private bedrooms for 8-10 young people, a room for a live-in advocate, and our administrative office in the garden apartment. We also hope to establish a productive garden in our back lot, to generate produce for the home."

Numerous individuals and organizations have contributed to the purchase of this home, Avenatti said. The PFC leadership team includes Avenatti, along with Cassandra Warren, Jacqueline Boyd, Carrie Kaufman, Tasasha Henderson and former team members Andre Perez and Katrina Sanford. "We also have had dozens of volunteers at various points that have made our progress possible, as well as hundreds of donors who've given what they can, and a few larger individual donors. We are grateful for all of this support," Avenatti said.

The building is located in the North Lawndale neighborhood, near public transportation and several community organizations. The building has been a residence for at least the past 10 years, and was foreclosed on.

"The [PFC] leadership team [is] incredibly grateful for the hard work of all our volunteers, past and present, and to the broader community for believing in our vision, and continuing to support us," Avenatti said. "The best way for folks to help ensure that we can open our doors and serve LGBTQ young people, is to consider becoming sustainers, or sustaining members, who give monthly, and help ensure our sustainability."

For more information, or to support the cause, go to projectfiercechicago.org/get-involved/ .

Related coverage at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Project-Fierce-buys-building-for-LGBTQ-youth-housing/52621.html .


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