Casa Central is located in a handsome brick building at the corner of California and Evergreen Avenues. It’s across the street from a beautifully manicured, 207-acre park that was designed as a jewel in the crown of the city’s ambitious boulevard system.
But Humboldt Park is also at the heart of a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood that struggles with gang violence, homelessness, drugs, and other problems that are endemic to many Latino communities around the West Side of Chicago.
This is where Casa Central comes in. Founded in 1954, the organization is a multifaceted one, providing a wide range of social services for everyone from infants to seniors. It’s run primarily for Latinos, and primarily by Latinos as well.
“We reach out to Latino families to help them out of the situations they’re struggling with,” president Ann Alvarez told Huffington Post Chicago. “These are the most vulnerable people in our society, these are the people who really need our compassion.”
One of the most innovative and successful programs at Casa Central is La Posada, a Spanish word for an inn or guest house. La Posada is an interim housing program for homeless families, and it embodies the comprehensive nature of Casa Central’s services.
Families — often young, single mothers with children — receive housing at one of the 21 apartments on site. Adults receive vocational training during the day, and Casa Central helps them find job placement opportunities; meanwhile, children are provided with after-school programming and younger ones have access to the Head Start pre-school programming that Casa Central provides.
No family stays longer than four or five months, and many leave sooner than that. In all, La Posada hosts around 70 families a year. The program continues to work with and keep tabs on the families that come through for another 18 months afterwards, to make sure they find a stable set-up.
And the statistics bear out the success of La Posada’s programming. “We’ve seen about a 90 percent non-recidivism rate,” Alvarez said, meaning that fewer than 10 percent of families find themselves falling back on homelessness, an astonishingly low figure for this type of program.
In recent years, Alvarez says, La Posada has seen a different type of family coming through its doors. “We had a woman who was a teller in a bank, her daughter was on scholarship at university, they had a home, they had a car. All of those things fell through the cracks — she lost her job, her husband lost her job. Practically overnight, they found themselves living out of their car.
“It’s a changing face of homelessness,” Alvarez said. “No longer is it the chronically homeless. It can happen to anyone.”
Like the populations it serves, economic troubles have also had a devastating impact on Casa Central itself. The organization relies on the government for around 85 percent of its funding, some from grants and more from reimbursements for services provided. But the state of Illinois has been many months delinquent in its reimbursements to human-services organizations, and its grant monies have all but dried up, as the state grapples with a massive budget deficit.
For Casa Central, that meant reducing some positions and taking a handful of furlough days. It also meant to shuttering some programs; last year, the organization decided it could no longer afford to run its foster care program. “That was tough,” Alvarez admitted.
Casa is turning to private funding sources, but they, too, are feeling pinched. Foundations give out grants largely out of the interest earned on their endowments — but interest rates are down for all manner of investments, so those grants are slimming as well.
This coming weekend, the company’s turning to a more crowd-sourced funding idea, co-hosting the Wrigley Early Start Run with Voices for Illinois Children and Prevent Child Abuse America. They’re collecting pledges for the 5K and 10K runs as well as a one-mile walk, and Casa Central will receive 100 percent of the proceeds for the donations it raises.
Readers who want to support the organization, and get a jog in for a good cause, can register online here, or at the Race Day tent in Grant Park this Saturday starting at 7:30 a.m. More details are available here.
Of course, Casa Central is also taking donations directly, and is looking for volunteers and sponsors as well. Find more information about other ways to support the organization on its website, or by calling volunteer coordinator Cheryl Debusmann-Serra at (773) 645-2465.