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Broadway Youth Center, Neighbors to Craft 'Good Neighbor Agreement'

By Serena Dai | November 12, 2013 8:20am
 The Broadway Youth Center was the hot topic at the South East Lake View Neighbors meeting Monday.
South East Lake View Neighbors Meeting November 2013
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LAKEVIEW — Broadway Youth Center will be working with a neighborhood group to craft a "good neighbor agreement" that must be adhered to if the city approves the youth health center's special- use permit, officials said at a meeting Monday night.

The Howard Brown Health affiliate serves LGBT youths ages 12-24 and needs a permit to operate in the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave. — a decision partly hinging on the approval of neighborhood group South East Lake View Neighbors.

The community group in December plans to take a vote, which acts only as an advisory decision for Ald. Tom Tunney (44th)

Neighbors have complained for years that the social service needs to be held accountable for the actions of its clients after hours due to crime issues, with some vowing to fight the permit's approval last month unless the center proved it could change.

Monday night's South East Lake View neighbor meeting at the Second Unitarian Church, 656 W. Barry Ave. — usually a small affair with about two dozen attendees — was filled with about 200 people to discuss the topic, with both those passionately supporting the center and those adamantly against its location.

Jan Sumrall, president of the group, said 45 people joined the organization last month so that they could be eligible to vote.

But mostly old issues were rehashed during the emotional 2½-hour meeting, with some residents complaining that a youth services center doesn't belong near "million dollar condos" and at least one supporter calling the residents language "code" for disliking people of color.

Some residents already were upset after seeing a letter from Broadway Youth Center to supporters that called them "racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist and ageist," while transgender center supporters testified that the neighborhood felt unwelcoming to people of color due to ongoing use of words like "riffraff."

Sumrall threatened to end the meeting after an argument broke out in the front row.

The meeting calmed down a bit, and moving forward, issues will be hashed out between South East Lake View Neighbors, the alderman and the center as they write out a plan of operations and "good neighbor agreement" that addresses some of the neighbor concerns.

The neighborhood group left questionnaires for members to write down their five most important requests from the center to inform the agreement.

It will ultimately be part of the zoning application, and the city will have a cause for revocation if guidelines are not met, Tunney said. Broadway Youth Center may be required to do things like send a representative to every community policing meeting and block club meetings, or possibly add security cameras, Tunney said.

The youth center also will be looking into another location in a city health facility in the 2800 block of North Clark Street, Tunney said.

The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to make a decision on the permit in December.

Broadway Youth Center needs the church space, said Michelle Wetzel, Howard Brown's general counsel. The "price is right," and it offers the necessary layout with private testing spaces necessary for the center.

Plus, "it's not easy to find a home for youth services" in the area, where LGBT homeless youth needed services for years before the center opened, Wetzel said.

"The Broadway Youth Center opened to address an issue that was already here," she said. 

Lois McCullen Parr, pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church, said the "good neighbor agreement" should go both ways — residents should be thinking of ways to help the young people who visit for social services, too, she said.

"We are responsible to all the children of the world," Parr said. "They’re children I feel responsible for, and I hope you do, too."

Despite the promise of a neighbor agreement "with teeth" from Tunney, resident Anne Voshel was still dubious that the center could handle operating in a residential area. She supports keeping it in Lakeview, she said, but said a street like Wellington is no place for a youth service. 

"I didn't hear much of any progress," she said. "I didn't hear that they have things more under control."