The elimination of the West Cook YMCA’s 128 SRO housing units for low-income residents, if and when the Y moves to Forest Park, would present an interesting challenge to Forest Park, the Y and the area in general.
Will we just use the “big city access, small town charm” slogan to market the village to new business and homeowners, or will we accept that capitalizing on the big city’s resources also means doing our share to fight big city problems, such as homelessness and poverty?
Many Forest Parkers seemed relieved to learn that there were no plans for SRO housing in town. It was brought up at a council meeting two weeks ago, not as an issue up for debate, but as a way to alleviate concerns from residents who likely feared a spike in crime and panhandling.
The fact is, however, that as a village sandwiched between the West Side of Chicago and Maywood, lower income individuals are going to pass through. The only question is whether to build walls or bridges.
Attempting to build walls to keep them out may be tempting, but it’s simply not the practical or responsible thing to do. If we do not make accommodations for lower income housing, poor people will simply end up in our shelters and on our streets. Even if they are kept from living in town, we’re only a train ride away from the city.
We are not necessarily suggesting that the Forest Park YMCA keep the SRO housing units. We can accept the argument that transitional housing is best left to those with experience dealing with the various personal, physical and psychological issues faced by those climbing out of homelessness.
YMCAs certainly take on and accomplish a number of positive missions, and perhaps their limited resources are better devoted to their many other specialties.
Still, if the YMCA is “getting out of the hotel business” and the villages of Forest Park and Oak Park are accommodating this change (there are varying accounts of whether Forest Park requested or simply went along with the plans to eliminate the housing units), all three parties have a responsibility to reach out to the potentially displaced residents.
Whether this means somehow keeping the current SRO housing in Oak Park open, independent of the Y, or finding new options for low-income residents, something needs to be done, and it needs to happen nearby as many of these individuals have or are seeking jobs in town. It’s not just Oak Park’s problem.
These people are paying rent, some of them taking a crucial first step in the transition from homelessness, and it would be an unjustifiable shame to send them back to square one by leaving no option other than shelters.
We hope we’re speaking too soon and that plans are already underway to ensure the SRO residents don’t slip through the cracks.