Chicago School Board: move mission to "better serve homeless" FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 26 Apr 1998 02:36:05 -0700 (PDT)
FWD Chicago Sun Times - April 16, 1998


  By David Roeder, Business Reporter
  Contributing: Gary Wisby

Chicago Board of Education officials are considering plans to buy the
Pacific Garden Mission on South State Street and relocate it so Jones
Commercial High School can expand.

If the plan is carried out, it would remove the mission from an area that
has become increasingly gentrified. Founded more than 120 years ago to
serve the homeless in what was then a Skid Row, the mission, 646 S. State,
is treated as an eyesore by many professionals who have moved to the area.

``We need the high school expanded and we need the mission relocated to a
place where it will better serve its clientele,'' said Barbara Lynne,
executive director of the Near South Planning Board, a community group.

Residents of the area interviewed Wednesday said they want the mission to
depart. ``I would like not seeing people begging on the street,'' said
Henry Wurzburg, 28. ``I don't care to see that walking to work every single

Michele Kogut, 40, said that while the mission ``tries to control its
people, it kind of gets tiring, all the begging and hanging around.''

School officials said the plan is one of several alternatives for the high
school, now a vocational school for juniors and seniors. The board has
budgeted $15 million to convert it to a four-year magnet school and to
increase its capacity.

Jones, 606 S. State, serves more than 900 students. The proposed changes at
the school are themselves controversial, with community groups saying that
the board wants the school to serve wealthier families on the Near South
Side at the expense of low-income students who need job training.

Timothy Martin, the School Board's chief operating officer, said officials
are as much as a year away from a decision on how to expand Jones. He said
the board could acquire the mission through its powers to condemn property
for public improvements.

Another possibility would be adding floors atop Jones' building, but
``we're not sure if a high school in a high-rise works,'' he said. The
board could open a school at another location, but Martin said finding such
property near downtown would be difficult.

Lynne said expanding the school over the mission property to the south is
the most logical alternative. Jones is hemmed in by Harrison and State
streets on two sides, and condos are to the west.

Mayor Daley has discussed moving the mission during at least two meetings
with local business leaders, Lynne said. A spokesman for Daley would not
confirm that and said the mayor has taken no position on the mission's

David McCarrell, president of the mission, said no one has approached those
running the mission about moving it. The mission, known for feeding the
homeless as it preaches to them, is an independent organization that owns
the property.

Any decision to move would be up to the mission's board, McCarrell said. He
said the operation fills more than 600 beds on winter nights and serves
about 1,500 meals a day.

Some neighborhood groups have speculated that the mission would be
relocated farther from downtown. Matt McDermott, policy analyst for the
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said that would follow an unfortunate

``The city has moved other shelters out of downtown. Homeless people need
to be close to downtown jobs,'' he said. McDermott said many men who stay
at the mission work for day labor agencies on the Loop's fringes.

But moving the mission may have a positive side, said Maurice O-Neal,
project director for Homeless on the Move for Equality.

He said that many transients depend on the mission, but it lacks support
services to help them get off the street.

Without it, the homeless ``would have to look for other resources,'' he said.

The mission's expressed dedication to spirituality has been criticized as a
misdirected way to help the homeless. But McCarrell said the approach works
and the mission has other services, such as a clinic and a vocational
program that places most of its graduates in jobs. ``We're a lot more than
a soup kitchen,'' he said.

Pastor Leo Barbee, director of the men's division at the mission, said its
emphasis on sin and redemption helped him alter his life after he landed
there in 1991 with drug and alcohol addictions. ``The mission has restored
men and women and it has restored families,'' he said.


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