The Northwest Side Housing Center has always been committed to evolving in new ways to best serve the Belmont Cragin community. What began as a two person, pop-up organization run out of a church basement to alleviate the struggles of the first foreclosure crisis has grown into an anchor organization consisting of an amalgamation of services for community members who may need help in any number of capacities. In 2015, the Housing Center, along with the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago and dozens of community members, discovered an unmet neighborhood wide need for mental health services and education in Belmont Cragin. Since then, the Housing Center has become more involved in mental health organizing and even created a full time position concerned with mental health, trauma, and resilience in the neighborhood.
Our organization is focused on the goal of creating what is known as a “trauma informed” community. As a Community Outreach Coordinator, I collaborate with the Trauma and Resilience Coordinator to bring mental health and trauma education to a number of groups across the neighborhood in order to comprehensively build a system of community members who are aware of how trauma affects the mind and body. Through presentations and workshops we hope to create a population that is informed on how to interact with others who might have been affected by traumas. We want to create a level of understanding instead of agitation, and this can help identify and mollify the effects of their own traumas through self care exercises, conversations with professionals, or even other community members. As a team, our service is centered along three fronts: students, parents, and community stakeholders. We tailor ways to reach each one of these populations in a unique way.
My most recent project has consisted of serving the students at Steinmetz College Prep, a neighborhood high school for students in and around the northwest side of Chicago. The Housing Center and Steinmetz are collaborating in partnership with PCC Wellness to create a school community where students and staff have a comprehensive understanding of how to deal with trauma and the effects it can have on people. In my service with students I have been staffing a “de-escalation room” within the school. This room is designed to be a place where students who might be undergoing difficult or stressful experiences inside or outside of the classroom can go to regroup and recenter. In the de-escalation room we have self-care activities, tactile objects for students to use, breathing exercises, and a welcoming atmosphere. Here I can let students undergo their own de-escalation/self-care techniques, be an ear to listen about stressors going on in their lives, or refer them to the in-school mental health service providers at the PCC Wellness in-school clinic. With this room we hope to reduce classroom disruptions by giving teachers and students a chance to recognize when someone is having a difficult time for whatever reason and allowing them to do something about it other than just teaching around them. In serving with all of these facets of our community it is our goal to shift the conversation about mental health and trauma from one that has only been in the shadows, to one where people feel comfortable reaching out for help and supporting one another.
This blog post was written by 2018-19 NHC Chicago member Noah Lybik.
Noah is an Outreach Coordinator at Northwest Side Housing Center.