La Casa Norte: More Than Housing...Hope
La Casa Norte Executive Director, Sol Flores recalls statistics for homeless youth in Illinois. “In 2005 a survey concluded that on any given night there are about 25,000 homeless youth statewide – 19,000 of them in Chicago.” The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that every year 600,000 families with 1.35 million children experience homelessness in the United States.
Sol Flores recounts the story of Carlos who at 18 years old was virtually homeless in Chicago’s Humboldt Park community. “He hadn’t completed high school and was involved in a gang. He came to us for help and became a resident of Solid Ground, which is our supportive housing program for at-risk single males ages 16 to 21.”
Then, Carlos found out that his girlfriend was pregnant. She was also precariously housed. The couple received relationship building and parenting skills training through the program. “Residents of Solid Ground don’t pay rent but they are required to save money.” says Flores. Carlos completed his GED and now, at age 20, works two jobs and is saving for his future.
With help from the program, Carlos recently signed an apartment lease. He will live with his girlfriend and child. “The couple faces ongoing challenges.” says Flores, “The next piece of our work will be to help this couple be good tenants, good parents to their daughter, good partners to each other, and stay gainfully employed and connected.”
La Casa Norte provides a safe and nurturing environment for homeless and abandoned people. Their continuum of services includes homeless prevention and intervention, housing placement, a bilingual supportive housing program for male youth ages 16 to 21, youth outreach and a teen drop-in center. Intensive case management for high-risk youth on the streets and GED tutoring and job skills training are also available.
In 2008 La Casa Norte served 818 households. In 2009 that number nearly doubled to 1547. Flores attributes the rise to a poor economy and the foreclosure crisis but says that some populations are always at risk, regardless of the economy. La Casa Norte provides services to anyone who walks through the door though their focus is on the Latino community.
“TCLI’s Latino Nonprofit Leadership Academy was great in many ways!” says Flores enthusiastically. “I was able to bring my emerging leader with me to the workshops. We brought back highly relevant information and together implemented what we learned. This helped our emerging leader to create a sense of ownership within the organization. With the Academy’s technical assistance, we improved our vision and value statements. Now our daily activities are aligned with specific values that surface in every staff meeting, in discussions with our board, and in performance evaluations. It may sound simplistic to some, but we didn’t have this before!”
“And what a difference it has made! As a result of our change in leadership style, we were able to launch a new vision and ‘go for it’.” La Casa Norte plans to add 100 units of housing. “The training received at the Academy transferred directly to our work in this community. We now know what our teams and leadership skills need to convey to make things happen,” Flores says. “An example of this new style in action is that we recently carried our vision and values into a meeting with a private donor and secured a $1 million dollar donation to launch a capital campaign.”