By Lindy Blake
I along with Jeannie Ashmore are liaisons to La Casa Norte, one of the agencies we serve at Kenilworth Union Church that has been chosen to be highlighted at our Outreach Benefit this year.
La Casa Norte was born from a dream of Keith Decker, who is a contractor I have worked with for over 25 years. Often we would show up at his studio to find him away from work, instead spending his free time in El Salvador working in orphanages. As a Viet Nam vet he was moved by the homeless youth in Viet Nam and also found the same heart-breaking situation in El Salvador. It was then he decided to transfer his energy to aid homeless youth in Chicago. He put his own home on the line and founded La Casa Norte. In 2016 Keith was honored in Chicago as UNICEF’s man of the year.
La Casa Norte has grown to be the largest agency serving homeless youth in Chicago with a focus on youth ages 16–24.
It’s difficult to address homeless youth without helping homeless families. Homelessness is a circumstance, not an identity. With the main office located in Humboldt Park, La Casa Norte uses a housing-first model to serve youth and families with children, believing you cannot get a start on rebuilding until you have a place to live. They offer high school counseling and college counseling, therapeutic counseling, and help getting into school and staying in school. They don’t just put a band-aid on it and try to give it a quick fix.
Some difficult facts that La Casa Norte is helping address:
- There are 18,831 children who navigate the Chicago Public Schools without a home
- 50% of homeless people in shelters in the United States are families
- 125,848 is the most recent estimate of Chicagoland residents experiencing homelessness
La Casa Norte serves 43 zip codes, and there are all types of shelters:
- One for pregnant and parenting moms and their children
- Emergency youth shelters; if you don’t have a place to sleep on a cold night, they will help you out
- Youth in College Center
- Rapid Rehousing Center
- Youth drop-in center with homework help and a safe space to talk to a trusted adult
This year expanding their reach they opened a new facility in Humboldt Park, a food and medical desert. This new community center brings a Fresh Market food pantry with healthy options and the new Howard Brown Health medical center which partners health needs with sound nutrition practices.
There is a clothing closet for clients and neighbors to access gently used clothing.
There are 25 apartments to help chronically homeless youth and families reestablish. They provide educational counseling and career counseling and all of this will now be under one roof.
Our Church youth have gotten involved with clothing, coat, and diaper drives. They have made blanket throws to give to a child to provide something warm and safe to call their own.
I hope this Minute for Mission helps you see how one man’s dream can affect the lives of thousands of children. An under-celebrated, hard working American who spends his energy and mindshare trying to make the world a better place. I find Keith Decker an inspiration. I hope you do too.