DNAinfo.com Chicago: Lakeview top cop wants youth homeless shelter to end bed lottery system

By Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Lakeview’s police commander wants a youth homeless shelter to change the way it operates, claiming that some of those who don’t win a bed in The Crib’s lottery may contribute to theft and robberies in the area.

“Frankly, it’s not working,” Town Hall Police Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said of the system where 20 people are chosen for beds through a lottery system at The Crib, a homeless shelter for 18- to 24-year-olds at Lake View Lutheran Church, 835 W. Addison St.

Voulgaris said he’s stopped people on the street at night and learned that they were in the neighborhood for The Crib. 

He and community policing Sgt. Jason Clark are advocating instead for a system where only people making “a good go at it” by attending school or working receive a bed, he told West Lake View Neighbors this week.

Then people who know they don’t have a bed wouldn’t have to end up on the street, he said.

“They’re sleeping on alleys, they’re sleeping on streets,” he said. “Of course neighbors are concerned.”

But The Crib said it exists to help people in crisis and cannot “select the most worthy people,” said Barbara Bolsen, vice president of programs at The Night Ministry, which runs the program.

It’s hard to predict which person will make the right steps, she said.

Even someone who might look like she will “crash and burn — like they’re not going to make it — they can really surprise you,” Bolsen said.

The Crib has been a flashpoint in contentious talks about crime this summer. Neighbors have complained about loitering and fighting outside the shelter, which went from seasonal service to year-round service this year.

The fighting and loitering make them feel less safe, neighbors said a meeting last month, and they demanded that the shelter take specific steps to address their concerns.

In response, The Night Ministry implemented many of those steps, Bolsen said.

The Crib no longer allows smoke breaks, meaning people stay inside once they get to the church at 9 p.m. If there are still empty beds after then, people must call 311 to check if one is open — not knock on the church’s door.

And the church is recruiting more volunteers to be around between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to help out the church’s site manager. It’s not quite the hired security that neighbors asked for, but Bolsen said it would add “adult presence” when the young people come in.

“This has really evolved in response to a dialogue with our immediate neighbors, with the alderman’s staff and folks at the police station,” Bolsen said.

But for now, the lottery system will stay.

Bolsen said usually about 25 to 30 people show up, meaning five to 10 people would be left out on the street. In July, an average of four people were turned away a night, and more recently, there have been several nights where fewer than 20 people showed up, Bolsen said.

It’s “a huge assumption” to think all young people on the street in Lakeview are there because they’ve been rejected from The Crib, she said.

Seeing young people on the street should signal more concern that they may be unsafe by sleeping on the street, she said.

“It’s not the goal of these programs to figure out which of those people are the most worthy of our help and support,” Bolsen said. “It’s to take 20 people, do that for them, and work on connecting them to resources where they can start to make changes.”

Voulgaris said he knows not all youth are committing the crimes — he just wants to work with social services while also addressing neighborhood crime concerns.

“I am not looking at hindering any social service agency such as the Crib,” he said in an email. “I am only looking at making it better for all.”