Controversy erupts as Uptown residents challenge placement of homeless shelter in mixed-use building

Controversy is brewing in Uptown over a proposed homeless shelter – with some residents calling the plan ‘unprecedented.’

Cornerstone Community Outreach – a nonprofit organization that operates homeless shelters in the area – is looking to create a 40-unit transitional shelter for men in a mixed-use building located at 1140 West Wilson Avenue.

The existing three-story building is currently made up of apartments and businesses. Under the proposal, the apartments would be converted into non-congregate shelter units, while first-floor retail space would remain in place.

Residents say it's unprecedented to place a homeless shelter in a building where commercial businesses are already established. Those who live in the neighboring condominium fear the move could jeopardize the viability of local businesses.

"This stretch of business is really important for this entire corridor," said Steven Hoffman, who lives nearby. "There's no precedent for this. There's not been an example of a mixed-use building that shares a transitional shelter with retail businesses."

Along nearby Clifton Avenue, Cornerstone already operates three shelters: Hannah Family Shelter, Naomi Shelter, and Sylvia Family Shelter.

"It’s not a question of whether there’s open arms, it’s a question of what’s good in terms of saturation," said Jason DeVore, Uptown resident.

In this case, the nonprofit is asking for a special use permit to add a fourth shelter to the area. The controversial issue will go before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals on Friday morning.

During that meeting, residents tell FOX 32 Chicago they will be seeking a continuance.

"I’m very concerned that there is a non-congregate men’s shelter going above a 4 a.m. bar," said Tara Pease, who lives nearby. "It’s a concern for safety, it’s a concern for property values, it’s a concern of, what does this look like?"

In addition to 2Bears Tavern, the building also houses Uptown Church and Downstate Donuts.

The team at Downstate Donuts tells FOX 32 Chicago that the shelter proposal is raising red flags with their insurance provider.

"While we deeply respect the need to support individuals in need, we believe this specific proposal raises significant questions about its impact on our community as a whole, including current residents, local businesses, and our valued staff," the team at Downstate Donuts said in a statement.

The team added: "The lack of clear safety measures, concern from insurance providers, and the rushed, non-transparent process raise alarm bells. Our customers and staff deserve to feel safe, and our community deserves open communication and thorough evaluation before such projects are approved."

Residents also echoed a lack of community dialogue throughout the process.

"I'm mostly concerned with the lack of transparency in the process," said Eric Koskie, Uptown resident.  

"There is no one in my building that is saying we don’t care for the unhoused, we appreciate the fact that everyone needs a home, what we need is answers on safety and making sure this is going to be the right move for this neighborhood," said Pease.

Andrew Winter, the executive director of Cornerstone Community Outreach, released the following statement to FOX 32 Chicago on Thursday:

"I’m grateful on behalf of Cornerstone Community Outreach to be pursing the opportunity alongside the Department of Housing and the Department of Family & Support Services, to create non-congregate shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The vision of creating more dignified and supportive space is wonderful.

"There are not enough places in Chicago for those experiencing homeless to go to. There is a greater need for shelter now than I’ve ever seen. And this property is an example of what is good to meet this need."

Ald. Angela Clay (46th Ward) expressed support for the project to move to the next phase.

"In the last two months, I have been working closely with the Department of Housing
(DOH), Department of Family & Support Services (DFSS), Cornerstone, and other relevant City departments to address these concerns. I am proud to say that we have made strides to strengthen the proposal and address many of these important questions," Clay stated.

Clay said she will be requiring a written safety plan that includes 24/7 security and cameras.

"There are still further milestones for this project to clear, including receiving a special use permit, passage through the TIF application process and City Council, and finalization of the grant agreement with the Department of Housing. I will remain involved in the conversation through each step of the process, and I have articulated further benchmarks I need to see met in order to continue my support, primarily in regard to building renovation, construction, safety, and the ongoing conversations between Cornerstone and the current commercial tenants," Clay added.  

To read Clay’s full statement, CLICK HERE

The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting is set to begin at 9 a.m. on Friday.