Residents of Chicago's Buena Park neighborhood express differing opinions when it comes to the potential sober-living facility proposed for the 900 block of West Cullom Avenue. (Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Uptown is like any other community that wants to better itself by attracting more development and raising property values. But can neighborhoods ratchet up their appeal and still maintain a commitment to compassion?
Long ago, Uptown built a reputation as a hub for social services: food pantries, homeless shelters, mental health treatment facilities, halfway houses, housing for refugees — the list goes on. At the same time, Uptown is a lakefront community, primed for the kind of gentrification seen in Lakeview, Ravenswood and other surrounding neighborhoods.
That's the backdrop for the neighborhood's latest controversy — a proposal by a Texas company to open a sober-living residence for men recovering from addiction.
The proposed site, in a section of Uptown called Buena Park, looks like every other single-family home on the block. Up to 15 men would live there, and they'd have to abide by a set of strict rules. To be eligible, they would have to be sober for at least 30 consecutive days. They'd have to adhere to a curfew and submit to random drug tests. They would also have to either work or volunteer full time during daytime hours.
The company behind the proposal, Eudaimonia Recovery Homes, stresses that the home would not provide any on-site medical services, detoxification programs or counseling. The goal, it says, is to give recovering addicts a way station that helps them transition to independent living.
The company intends to apply to the city's Zoning Board of Appeals for a special use permit. Without it, the home can't open. And there's strong resistance from many Buena Park residents, the Tribune's Leonor Vivanco reports. Some say Uptown is reaching critical mass when it comes to social service providers. Others worry that recovering addicts could relapse, and pose a risk to the neighborhood.
The center's opponents have the support of Ald. James Cappleman, 46th, who has taken a pro-development approach toward stewardship of his ward. A licensed social worker, Cappleman has taken guff from social service advocates for, among other things, pushing to force out of the neighborhood a Salvation Army truck that was handing out food to Uptown's homeless.
We didn't endorse Cappleman in his 2015 bid for re-election because, while he'd preached about development, he hadn't produced it. At the time, the only development success he could point to was a new Sonic fast food drive-in. Like many Uptown residents, we would like to see Uptown's development catch up to nearby neighborhoods such as Ravenswood and Lakeview. But we don't see the sober-living facility as a source of harm to Uptown, or an impediment to its growth.
Not long ago, the same kind of facility was proposed for Lakeview. Rosecrance Inc.'s bid for a sober-living residence for young adults drew a similar backlash from neighborhood residents who worried about the facility's impact on safety and property values. Were those fears justified? Vivanco reports that, after a year in business, the facility drew just two complaints. Both had to do with cigarette smoke. "I hope people's fears have been put to rest," Rosecrance President David Gomel told Vivanco.
People who sign up for these recovery residences commit time and effort toward turning around their lives — a pivot that can transform them into productive citizens for the neighborhoods they've joined. A liability becomes an asset. It's hard to see why that would be bad for a neighborhood.