WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — For the last four years, the Salvation Army haven taken to the streets of Humboldt Park and frequented backyard barbecues.
The organization has been planning its move into a massive 160,000-square-foot Freedom Center campus in West Humboldt Park for four years and wanted to use that time to ensure the facility would be tailored to the community, and not the other way around.
Captain Nancy Powers, director of the center, which opened Friday, said that when her staff spoke with drug dealers and prostitutes lining Chicago Avenue, they heard the same thing.
"There are so many drug dealers out there. They can't make enough money," Powers said. "When you talk to these guys, they don't have any hope. They don't see any option. That's why we are here."
The new $60 million, four-story community center at 825 N. Christiana Ave. is hosting an open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday that will feature live music, food, games, class registrations and health screenings.
Paul Biasco toured the new facility and says it's unbelievable:
The facility, built on the site of a 6-acre former spring factory, includes three wings that are expected to serve 24,000 people a year. The first wing, a community center, houses a large gym with two full-length basketball courts, a food pantry, medical clinic, 560-seat chapel and job training and employment center.
The second, known as the Salvation Army's Harbor Light Center, will house an inpatient substance abuse treatment center for 200 clients. In 2013, the Harbor Light Center in the current building served 2,513 clients.
The third, the Pathway Forward, is a halfway and three-fourths-way house for federal prisoners. It will be the only facility of its kind in Illinois, according to Powers, and will have a capacity for 200 inmates transitioning out of prison.
The Freedom Center campus also will serve as the base for the Salvation Army's mobile feeding and outreach program, which makes 24 stops around the city seven days a week, helping feed the homeless and providing counseling services.
The center's employment services aims to get people off the street and into stable job.
"That's the No. 1 thing we hear on the street, 'We need jobs. We need jobs,'" Powers said.
There are multiple computer labs and full-time staff working with candidates to help finish GEDs, gain technical certificates and find businesses to partner with for employment.
The Salvation Army will have a program that will cover the first eight weeks of paychecks for people who find jobs through their programs.
"That way, the employer has a trial period," Powers said.
The new center held a grand opening ribbon-cutting Friday, but won't be fully functioning until later in September, when clients move from the century-old Salvation Army at Ashland Avenue and Monroe Street into the new center.
The 3-mile move of about 400 people will be a well thought-out process, Powers said.
All the clients at the West Side facility have been given a space on the sidewalk to put their belongings and on their given date and time during a two-day window, the Salvation Army will begin the process of making the move, 12 people at a time.
"Have you ever tried to move a family of 400?" Powers said with a laugh.
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