It took years of revised plans and fundraising, but on March 3 Vida/SIDA cut the ribbon on its much-anticipated LGBT homeless youth shelter, the first of its kind in Chicago.
More than 75 people packed into the Humboldt Park organization to celebrate the opening of El Rescate.
"This is about hope," said Cook County Commissioner Edwin Reyes. "It's about dignity, and it's about saving lives."
The transitional housing facility, located on the 4th floor of Vida/SIDA ( 2703 W. Division ) , will house up to 12 LGBT youths ages 18-24 and provide young people with social services like employment and education resources, skills training and case management.
The brightly-painted space contains bedrooms with bunk beds and desks, a lounge and a full kitchen/ dining area.
Plans to open the shelter have been in the works for more than three years. Vida/SIDA had announced the housing as a 2010 goal but struggled through fundraising and red tape to make it happen.
But on March 3, the doors finally opened.
Vida/SIDA, the only local HIV/AIDS organization that specifically serves Latino/as, was founded 1988 to address a lack of culturally competent healthcare for HIV-positive Puerto Ricans. Roberto Sanabria, a longtime activist with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center ( PRCC ) which oversees Vida/SIDA, said that the organization has grown to respond to other gaps in services in the Latino/a community.
"We have noticed the same thing with homeless youth," he said. "Once a child is homeless, especially if he is LGBT, these children are exposed to violence."
Sanabria and others credited Vida/SIDA Director Juan Calderon with making the project a reality. At age 25, Calderon has overseen the organization for four years now, making him the youngest to hold the position.
According to José Lopez, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Vida/SIDA will operate with a budget in excess of a million dollars this year.
Lopez noted that the shelter opening comes just days after the Tipsy Cake bakery controversy, when a Humboldt Park baker said in an interview that she moved her storefront to Bucktown because Humboldt Park was dangerous. The bakery has since apologized.
"The news media continues to perpetuate a myth," he said, adding that the shelter opening was representative of the community.
Local politicians and LGBT leaders attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 3. Among them were Mona Noriega, director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, State Rep. Cynthia Soto and State Sen. Iris Martinez.
Noriega called El Rescate "long overdue."
"This is a citywide problem," she said. "But [ El Rescate ] is a community-based solution."
Attendees at the ceremony were given a tour of the new facilities and were shown other Vida/SIDA projects.