New home for teen moms to be built in Austin

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A boarded-up police station on West Chicago Avenue will soon be demolished and replaced by a residential home for at-risk young mothers after a City Council committee paved the way for the project last week.

The Committee on Zoning unanimously approved a zoning change that would allow New Moms Inc. to tear down the old 15th District Police Station at 5327. W. Chicago Ave. and replace it with a four-story office and apartment building for young mothers and their children.

The building will house 40 young moms, ages 18-21, and their children in studio and one-bedroom apartments, said New Moms President and CEO Audalee McLoughlin.

It will also serve as the organization’s headquarters and home base for its outreach programs, such as parenting classes, support groups and job training, which reach girls as young as 13.

Aldermen on April 22 voiced only support for the project, which calls for the city to sell the police station and neighboring lot, valued at $250,000, to New Moms for $1.

“I also have a New Moms Inc. in my ward, and it is a great program,” said Ald. Rey Colon (35th). “It is helping a lot of young women in our community who had nowhere else to go. New Moms has done a great job of meeting the needs of the new moms in the community.”

Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) said she had a program similar to New Moms in her North Side ward: “I know the community was apprehensive and scared at the beginning. But it truly was a great program, and it didn’t take long for the community to get on board.”

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), whose ward will house the project, also supports the project.

“There are not a lot of available facilities to assist these young mothers in our community,” Mitts said in a statement this week. “In today’s difficult economic climate, the situation young women with babies face can immediately spiral downwards, unless there is someone who is both willing and able to assist them in a coordinated and meaningful manner.”

Young women come to New Moms from Humboldt Park, Logan Square, West Town and Austin; they are often near-homeless, moving from place to place and at a great risk of exploitation, McLoughlin said. Eighty percent have dropped out of school and all are living in extreme poverty.

Most participants are themselves the daughters of teenage mothers, McLoughlin said, and their own daughters are likely to carry that torch for yet another generation. It’s that cycle New Moms tries to break by intervening with both the young mother and her child.

“If you really want to break the cycle of poverty, intervene with these kids who have kids,” McLoughlin said. “There is a huge impact in dealing with two generations at once.”

The organization takes a “holistic approach,” helping mothers with housing, parenting, school, nutrition and more, she said.

One of their greatest successes is in education, she said. New Moms reports that 62 percent of participants graduate high school – higher than the Chicago Public Schools’ graduation rate and nearly double the average graduation rate of teen mothers.

Since a fire destroyed their Humboldt Park facility two years ago, New Moms has housed its residential program in Austin in apartments at the Circle Urban Ministries. The nonprofit organization decided to move into Austin permanently because many of its clients come from the area, McLoughlin said.

“With the gentrification happening in the Humboldt Park community, many of our participants were moving west and south,” she said. “We believe we need to be where our participants are. Imagine what it’s like to be 15 or 16, have a baby or two, and have to take two buses to get to a parenting group – in the snow.”

There are an estimated 7,000 homeless young mothers in the city of Chicago, McLoughlin said, and only 200 beds designated for that population in the entire state. Because of this, New Moms consistently has a waiting list of about six months.

“We always tell people, just keep calling,” she McLoughlin said.

Plans for the building also call for a food pantry and a day care center that will service participants of New Moms, and if space is available, community members, too.

McLoughlin said she hopes to have the project completed in fall 2011.

Kelsey Duckett contributed to this report.

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