Catalyst Grantee Profile: Center on Halsted

Center on Halsted

Interview with Modesto Valle, CEO, Center on Halsted

Organization Name 
Center on Halsted
Organization Website
Population Served 
LGBTQ and allies
Organization Location 
Chicago, IL
Founding Year 
Organization Mission 
Center on Halsted advances community and secures the health and well-being of the LGBTQ people of Chicagoland.
Please describe the problem your organization is working to solve and the ways in which your organization’s approach to this work is new or unique. 
Center on Halsted (COH) works to advance community and secure the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of Chicagoland. COH increases access for LGBTQ people by eliminating barriers related to the intersections of such identities as sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender and gender expression, economic status, physical or cognitive disability, and religion. COH’s approach is unique because it helps accomplish this work through providing a safe, affirming environment for a population too often exposed to violence and hate while advocating for change and acceptance in the community on a wide range of critical social issues at the individual, organizational, and community levels. Through arts, cultural, and affinity programming, it elevates and amplifies the history, lives, and contributions of LGBTQ people as a means of creating stronger identity and pride within the community while promoting inclusion and acceptance beyond it. Through social service offerings, COH provides resources to improve mental health, address the threat of HIV/AIDS to the LGBTQ community, and give youth and seniors the resources needed to live healthy and productive lives. COH also advances the LGBTQ community by hosting an array of robust, educational and enlightening programs open to the public as well as trainings on cultural competency. COH welcomes more than 511,000 visitors each year.
What are some key accomplishments your organization has achieved. 
Since opening the Center in 2007, COH has built the financial and administrative capacity to grow its annual operating budget to $7,000,000.
In FY2017, COH hired for the first time, a Director of Trans Relations and Community Engagement, Vanessa Sheridan, who took on the challenge of meeting with many Transgender groups and individuals throughout the Chicago transgender community. Today, Vanessa now serves as the Director of Gender Equity and Inclusion.
In FY2017, the Center, with support from the Board, hired an LGBTQ Person of Color for the role of a Community and Outreach Coordinator, Joanna Thompson, who managed outreach campaigns throughout the City to increase education and cultural competency while raising awareness of LGBTQ violence prevention and intervention strategies. Today, the role is now Director of Racial Equity and Inclusion.
The Youth Homelessness Initiative Program transitioned its housing of LGBTQ youth to the Woodlawn community in partnership with the Preservation for Affordable Housing (POAH) in the Winter of 2018.
The Center is setting out to open a COH youth “center” in the Woodlawn community of Chicago by FY2021.
Since the beginning of FY16, COH’s Youth Program Staff have provided support to youth through Individual Level Interventions. Among the 2,694 presenting problems noted in these interventions, about one-third (794) related to abuse, mental health, self-harm, and/or violence and trauma. Youth Program Staff have provided a significant increase in the annual number of Behavioral Health referrals compared to previous years, rising 71.43% from FY16 to FY18.
In FY2018, Senior Services provided 17,172 units of services to 1,026 unduplicated clients, of this 126 were new clients and 900 were repeat clients. This exceeded a Department goal of 500 patrons. Additionally, Senior Services served 271 unduplicated seniors 7,298 meals in FY2018. Through programming, which included an average of 66 monthly events, Senior Services reached a total of 755 seniors with 9,874 units of service.
What obstacles (either expected or unexpected) has your organization faced and how have you addressed them? 
The need for services at COH is increasingly greater than current staff capacity. COH clients present with complex issues, such as trauma, and require intensive services. At times COH staff are the only resource for these clients, and they present multiple challenges including mental health, substance use, social isolation, economic hardship, homelessness or unstable housing, family conflict, etc. on top of perhaps dealing with societal stigma and concerns about how to live with healthy gender and sexual identities. Also, public expression of hate and stigma against the LGBTQ population have recently risen. Societal stigma and oppression intensifies challenges in how the LGBTQ community is facing their daily lives. Trauma is triggered, and need for help increases. The safe space the Center has created is critical to defending these uncertain times and ensuring that the change that has been created continues to thrive and that the population it represents is counted and recognized. Despite these challenges, COH will continue to be a catalyst and expand its reach through community partnerships and competing for grant funding opportunities that will move the LGBTQ community forward, and help create a world that is more inclusive and supportive of human differences.
What current and future trends have you identified in your field?
LGBTQ Youth: According to Chapin Hall’s study, Voices for Youth Count, Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer young adults are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness as their non-LGBTQ peers. They are also at greater risk for experiencing high levels of hardship, including higher rates of assault, of exchanging sex for basic needs, and of early death. Young adults (18-25) who identify as LGBTQ experienced homelessness at more than twice the rate of their non-LGBTQ peers. Black LGBTQ youth, especially young men, had the highest rates of homelessness. COH is a member of the All Chicago CoC, provides housing, and is striving to add more housing through an application to HUD and the City of Chicago Department of Public Health.
HIV and Aging: Aging with HIV/AIDS is difficult. Many HIV-infected people, now in their 50s and 60s, who have lived for years with HIV under control, are developing aging-related conditions — heart, liver and kidney disease, certain cancers and frailty, for example — at a rate significantly higher than uninfected people of the same age. COH recently submitted a grant application to Gilead Sciences to provide a new program to help counteract these issues for Seniors 55+.
Increased access to Free Behavioral Health Services for LGBTQ individuals: Youth Program Staff have provided a significant increase in the annual number of Behavioral Health referrals compared to previous years, rising 71.43% from FY16 to FY18. From July 2017 through April 2018, COH’s HIV testing program referred 131 clients to behavioral health services. COH’s Behavioral Health Department is a critical resource in the community.
What advice do you have for others interested in contributing to positive changes in your field? 
Be patient, listen to the community while paying attention to availability and trends in funding streams and respond with compassion and action. Also, take time for self-care.
How can funders and supporters best help your organization accomplish its goals? 
Funders and supporters can best help Center on Halsted by spreading the word about the Center’s programs and services to those who may benefit which assists us in achieving greater visibility and impact. Further, unrestricted grant funding opportunities are an incredible way for the organization to achieve its funding and strategic priorities.

Selected Media Mentions
Windy City Times, “Successful WERQ Job Fair Takes Place at Center on Halsted”
Chicago Defender, African-American Program Managers at Center on Halsted Educate and Enlighten the Black LGBTQ Community”
ABC7 News Chicago, “Center on Halsted provides safe space to talk about bullying”
Windy City Times Vanessa Sheridan helps trans community at Center on Halsted”
Chicago Tribune, “Lakeview to be future home of first affordable building for senior LGBT”