Chicago — Carl Wiley knows the drive young people have in today’s society when it comes to following their dreams. That’s why he, along with a Chicago organization, is building a center dedicated to at-risk youth on the South Side.
The Lyte Collective, an organization that works with young adults facing poverty and homelessness, purchased an old vacant church and daycare center in 2017 to turn into the Lyte Lounge, a queer-friendly center that will provide resources for young people.
Wiley, co-founder of Lyte Collective, said plans for the center include recreational activities, assistance with employment, education support, therapy, a recording studio and a space for open mic nights. The facility will also have basic-need resources such as meals, showers, laundry and more.
“We’ll have really cool stuff that's not typically in all the programs I've ever worked for,” he said. “Those are the last things people think about, it's like ‘we got to keep our lights on, we got to feed people, we can’t think about any of the stuff that youth are asking for.’ So we want to put those resources upfront.”
Construction on the 12,000-square-foot building began in late 2019 and was slated to open last year, but COVID-19 interrupted the process. Wiley said construction was halted in March 2020 but picked back up in recent weeks. The building is expected to open sometime this year but a date hasn’t been set.
“We're in a good spot now, but it was definitely a long road coming to get to there,” he said.
The building was in need of $1.6 million in renovations. The organization raised $1.2 million and began construction. Wiley said donations are still being accepted.
The Lyte Lounge will also include an arts center dedicated to youth with a creative drive.
“Youth are writing poetry, they're writing beats, they're writing lyrics, they're doing all this stuff on their own and they're trying to make it work but there's never been like a spot to go to,” Wiley said.
Creativity is a good stress reliever where youth can transform their hardships into art, Wiley said, but some, especially those who face homelessness, can’t accomplish their dreams due to a lack of resources.
“They're doing all this stuff on their own and they're trying to make it work but there's never been like a spot to like do that,” he said. “Especially for youth in the homeless service sector, that is inaccessible for a lot of youth to get to some of those spots.”
As of 2018, a total of 76,998 Chicago residents were homeless and 16,580 were unaccompanied youth from 14 to 24 years old, according to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
“Just making that space available to youth who have been so disconnected from everything else was a big drive for me in this sort of work,” Wiley said.