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The Crib creates safe haven for LGBTQ youth
LGBTQ Youth Series from Windy City Times
by Erica Demarest, Windy City Times
2012-12-12

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Names are pulled from a bucket and those called will get to stay overnight. Photo by Bill Healy.


At 8:15 p.m. on a chilly Tuesday in late October, about a dozen young people gather in the Lakeview Lutheran Church parking lot. They joke and smoke cigarettes and hop from foot-to-foot, rubbing their hands together for warmth.

When volunteers open the church's side door at 8:30 p.m., the crowd has swelled to at least 30 people. One-by-one, youth file into a hallway, scribble their names on scraps of paper and drop the slips into a white plastic bucket.

For the next 15 minutes, these young people will await a lottery to determine who can spend the night at The Crib, The Night Ministry's LGBTQ-affirming shelter for 18 to 24 year olds. It has 20 beds.

"We originally tried to make it first-come, first served, but we ran into a problem really early on," coordinator Nate Metrick explains. "In the first couple weeks, there would be 25 or 30 people trying to get in at the same moment. They would wait across the street at the police station and then run across at 8:30, when we start admission. People would run in between cars; someone jumped over a car once. It's really impossible to tell who's first when 25 people show up at once.

"We tried to figure out what's fairest, and there really is no fair option," Metrick deadpans. "What we settled on is a lottery process."

If fewer than 20 people arrive by 8:45 p.m., each attendee is admitted. Tonight, there are nearly twice as many youth as there are beds.

Some young people sit and wring their hands, rocking slightly. Others pace, visibly nervous. Still others dance, laugh or play cards.

As a volunteer slowly pulls names from the bucket and checks them off a master sign-in sheet, several young people crowd around her, peering over her shoulder.

When the last name is called, some stomp and curse. One woman asks those who can couch-surf to give up their spots. And several young people willingly abdicate their beds—opting to spend the night with a significant other who didn't make the cut.

Those who aren't chosen are given a $2.50 bus card, but several youth say they don't have anywhere else to go.

"It's kind of hard because you have to sleep on the street," Logan, 24, says. "You have to go other places. You have to figure out what your next step is. If there were more spaces here, then it wouldn't be so hard to have a lottery. I know some people who have slept, literally, behind dumpsters for the night when there wasn't a place here… No one should get turned away."

The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless estimates that in 2011-2012, there were 10,995 unaccompanied homeless youth in Chicago. During that same timeframe, the group counted just 266 youth shelter beds.

Additionally, many LGBT people report harassment and violence in shelters. When The Crib opened two years ago, it set out to provide a safe, homey and LGBTQ-affirming environment.

About 75 percent of youth at The Crib identify as LGBTQ, says Jessica Howe, a spokesperson for The Night Ministry. Thirty percent identify as transgender; and one-third of the staff say they're transgender or gender non-conforming.

"I've stayed at other places before, and it's not safe for people like us—LGBTQ, I, A, whatever," says Kael, 22, who works part-time and turns to The Crib when he can't stay with friends. "I've been attacked in a shelter. I've been sexually harassed in some shelters. Here, I feel a little safer. I'm with my own people."

When asked to describe The Crib, youth used words such as "fun" or "supportive."

"They treat us with mad respects," Diamond, 24, says. She compares a night at The Crib to a kiki—referencing the cult Scissor Sisters song.

"A kiki is a party for calming all your nerves," the lyrics say. "We're spilling tea and dishing just desserts one may deserve. And though the sun is rising, few may choose to leave, so shade that lid and we'll all bid adieu to your ennui."

At 9 p.m., the 20 youth who will sleep at The Crib begin "gratitudes," a nightly session where people give thanks and share positive news. Common themes include friendship, The Crib and God.

Over the next three hours, youth will eat a nutritious dinner, play loud music, dance, study for the GED and paint each other's nails. Yoga classes, HIV/STI testing, massage and chiropractic sessions are offered several times a month, Howe says. And youth can always take showers and do laundry.

Plus, those who stay at The Crib can perform chores in exchange for one-day bus passes, and enroll in 2-month leadership training.

"I'm very grateful," says Don, 23, who attends school and has a job, but says day-to-day expenses make it tough to save for an apartment. He has a lot of friends at The Crib, but envisions a future where he has stable housing and comes back as a volunteer. Tonight, he says he would've slept on the Blue Line if he hadn't won a bed in the lottery.

"It's safer [than the Red Line]," he says. "Numerous times, I've fallen asleep there, and I've gotten robbed."

The Crib serves about 300 youth per year, with a monthly operating cost of $37,000, Howe says. This figure includes meals, safe shelter, recreational programming, case management and referrals for support services.

In the morning, young people are served a hearty breakfast, and everyone is out the door by 9 a.m.

Though the majority of youth interviewed said they were grateful for The Crib—citing how positive and safe it is compared to other shelters—many are concerned about the limited number of beds.

"It's sometimes scary," Patricia, 19, says. "The winter is one of our biggest fears. Last year, there was a blizzard, and it was horrible."

Generation Halsted is an eight-week series that seeks to capture youth voices not typically represented in Windy City Times and other media. The young people portrayed have many housing situations, gender identities and sexual orientations. The series looks primarily, but not exclusively, at Boystown, where an influx of young LGBTQ people has been a source of controversy. Windy City Times will continue to explore the issues raised here beyond this series.

Next week: Learn more about Lakeview youth programs as we profile two local organizations: Center on Halsted and the Chicagoland Community Church (C3).

More on www.youtube.com/windycitytimes www.vimeo.com/windycitytimes or click the "YOUTH" tab at www.WindyCityMediaGroup.com .


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