The $15-million LGBTQ+ center slated for creation on the city's South Side is in phase two of an anticipated five phases to completion, with a projected 2024 opening, according to stakeholders.
Illinois state Rep. Lamont Robinson, who was instrumental in securing the $15-million funding from the capital budget, has been working alongside Howard Brown Health to plan next steps for the center. The center will address the inequitable distribution of resources that leaves many South Side LGBTQ+ residents having to travel north to receive essential services.
"We want to make sure that it is African American-led, that the organizations that are in the community center are African American [and] that the center will be built by African Americans. We want to make sure that the center is for and built and ran by the community," Robinson emphasized. He added he hopes the center will break ground in summer 2022.
Howard Brown Director of Strategic Partnerships Channyn Lynne Parker explained that the first phase of planning, community input, was completed this year through the South Side Needs Assessment Survey developed with Pride Action Tank. Phase twoconsisting of partnership and site selectionis underway.
Robinson and Howard Brown officials are searching for land on the South Side and for organizations to occupy the center. Organizations might contribute housing services, youth services, senior services, medical services, recreational services, child care or gathering spaces, Parker said.
Howard Brown has faced criticism before for failing to engage existing community resources as they have expanded to locations across the city. Parker affirmed the organization's commitment to partnering with rooted South Side organizations.
"There are so many organizations on the city's South Side who have been doing this care work for a very long time, providing care for their communities, making sure that they are healthy, making sure that their needs are met, and making sure that they're thriving. So those are the folks that we need in this space," Parker said.
The community and organizations in the center will form a planning board to determine the center's ownership model. Howard Brown will not have a say in that process, according to Parker. Robinson compared it to the model of Center on Halsted, in which a nonprofit organization was formed to operate the center.
Parker said that Howard Brown plans to own and operate a clinic external to the center.
"Ultimately, this is not a Howard Brown community center. This will not be a Howard Brown-ran community center. This will be a community center that is ran by community," Parker noted.
Robinson's goals for the center include healthcare, GED classrooms, a gymnasium, showers, lockers, a computer lab, and a safe gathering space. Once the building opens, Robinson will work to add housing within the facility.
Phases three through five will involve construction management; finalizing financials, occupancy plans, and operational agreements; and ribbon cutting for a projected 2024 finish. Throughout the process, Parker said, Howard Brown plans to support ancillary funding that arises for the center.
"We hope we maintain the fidelity of that timeline, but most importantly, we want to make sure that things are done correctly," Parker stressed.