Made in Uptown: North Side Housing and Supportive Services

Since 1983, North Side Housing & Supportive Services has been working to eradicate homelessness in Chicago by providing emergency housing and social services to Chicago’s most vulnerable residents. Uptown United talked with Margaret Kushiner, Director of Strategic Partnerships & Communications, about the agency’s history, trauma-informed approach, and how the community recently rallied to save the men’s shelter in Uptown.

Founded in Lakeview, in 2012 North Side Housing took over the men’s shelter in the basement of the Preston Bradley Center that often accommodates over 70 men and is one of the few such spaces dedicated to single men. The shelter serves people regardless of their situation, meeting them where they are to help them get out of crisis. The aim is to first get people off the streets to address any compounding issues, working with each to find long-term stability so that they can go on with their lives.

This is crucial because, despite common misconceptions, homelessness is a very vulnerable state and homeless people are more victims of crime than perpetrators – simply because they are so exposed. Plus, past trauma informs and often causes compounding issues such as substance abuse.

Beginning with respect. Recognizing that each person’s case is unique, North Side employs social workers to unravel how their clients’ trauma and psychology history fits into their personal journey. The goal isn’t to make clients conform to pre-set goals, but instead help them create and attain their own goals and to help them understand and break their patters. The key is to begin by simply treating a person with respect, which is known to result in more successful long-term outcomes.

Focus on relationships. North Side Housing staff is trained in trauma-informed care and also offers on-site services such as mental health counseling. The key is for the clients work with people they interact with regularly, helping them have a more trusting relationship versus with an outside professional. This helps ensure services are not merely transactional but transformational.

Planning for the future. The agency is still reeling from the flood of support it received when the men’s shelter was recently threatened with closure. The outpouring of new friends, new connections, and supporters – much of it right from the Uptown community, made clear how much neighbors value the shelter’s work.

North Side Housing used some of the funds to renovate the shelter and added a mural donated by local artist Justus Roe, making a big difference for the 70-plus men who crowd in the space. It recently held an open house to show off the renovations and let neighbors meet with some of their clients.

Other services. Aside from the men’s shelter, North Side Housing manages 192 affordable apartments around the city, with its offices in Ravenswood where the agency also hosts a Day Support Services drop-in center that serves both men and women. The agency also employs a registered nurse who helps extremely ill clients navigate their healthcare, eat healthy, and set goals to improve their health.

How to be involved. The agency is always eager for volunteers to come to help cook meals, help run the donation room, and to help with the employment coaching. Volunteers can come to play music, share their skills, or just socialize with clients – all of which helps them feel connected and respected.

Also, there is a constant need for landlord partners willing to rent to those coming out of the shelter, a critical step in helping someone get a second chance for housing.