by Gordon Nary
Gordon: You have been in the commercial real estate brokerage business since 1983 with your organization Jacqueline Hayes & Associates, Ltd. where you specialize in retail leasing with a particular focus in working with high-end retailers seeking locations on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. What is the current state of the commercial real estate market in downtown Chicago?
Jacqueline: There are so many facets in play at the present time with regard to commercial real estate. Retail itself had been changing with the advent of online shopping and it had affected the shopping habits of the consumers, but the coronavirus has caused a dramatic change now. Retail stores have shut down and a great number have even boarded up their storefronts. While there is the possibility of retail activity soon once again where people can order something to be delivered or picked-up while practicing social distancing, it will honestly be anybody’s guess as to how many stores will actually open. There are a number of major retailers whose sales had been changing over time and who have now indicated they are ready to file bankruptcy. It is estimated that 35% of all restaurants will never reopen and I believe we may see that a large percentage of retailers will not reopen as well.
Gordon: When were you appointed to the Board of Directors of the Magnificent Mile Association ?
Jacqueline: I have been a Board member of The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association (now known as The Magnificent Mile Association) since 1983 and held many roles over the years in protecting and promoting the area as one the great streets of the world.
Gordon: In your opinion, what is the current outlook for long-term investment in commercial real estate in Chicago?
Jacqueline: It is too difficult to predict what the outlook will be at the present time. Recovery will take some time and, in truth, it is likely that investment in retail properties will be much slower than other in aspects of the industry, such as industrial properties.
Gordon: Some might find it somewhat unusual for a highly successful commercial real estate moguless (I'm not sure if that is the appropriate word) to be interested in the challenges of being poor and hungry in Chicago. When and how did you first become aware of these growing challenges?
Jacqueline: In late 1999, the City closed lower Wacker Drive to the homeless who were living there. A lot of those individuals started to find alternative places to sleep and they were found in the doorways of the unleased retail spaces along Michigan Avenue. As a real estate broker representing those properties for lease, I had to ask the homeless to leave the doorways so they wouldn’t interfere with my marketing of the property. That was my first reaction to the situation. I then thought that it was unattractive for tourists to see, but then I came to the realization that these were human beings who were sleeping in doorways on Michigan Avenue because they felt safe and I wanted to get them to a better place.
Gordon: Could you give us some background on how you went about organizing The Chicago HELP Initiative?
Jacqueline: Since I was on the board of the GNMAA at the time, I suggested that we had to do something, but, unfortunately, I was told that there wasn’t enough staff to take on the homeless as a project but that if I did anything, GNMAA would back me. I also happened to be on the board of the Lawson House YMCA (the supportive housing facility at Chicago and Dearborn) at that time and talked with them. They were very willing to help since they were getting calls to get their people off the street and it wasn’t their residents. Another board member of Lawson was the pastor of Holy Name Cathedral, who indicated they would work with me as they always had homeless knocking at their door for assistance. Fourth Presbyterian Church also indicated they were interested in joining in the effort to address the homeless issue. The River North Association, Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR), Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Catholic Charities were invited and joined.
Starting in November 1999, we worked together, meeting once a month, to establish a plan. We created a 2-sided card that could be shared with the respective members of the various organizations advising how to assist the homeless and that card could also be given to a homeless person letting them know where to get assistance. We incorporated as a 501(c)(3) on August 16, 2000.
It took us a full year to design the card and agree on the language and, after we printed over 25,000 cards and distributed them (the cost of which was fronted by the GNMAA), it was suggested that we next tackle housing, but that was an absolutely daunting thought since it took us so long to do the card. Fortunately, Monsignor Boland, the then President of Catholic Charities offered me his dining hall at their facilities at 721 North La Salle Street and suggested we should feed those in need and, since feeding the homeless was more easily achievable, we agreed.
Gordon: When did you begin serving your first dinners at Catholic Charities?
Jacqueline: Now I had to find food. Since I was so active with GNMAA and knew many of the restaurant owners and hotel operators, I decided to call upon my fellow board members for help in providing the meals. The first person I called was Marc Schulman who was still operating Eli’s Place for Steak at the time (where Lurie Children’s Hospital is now) and asked him for a meal for 150 people. Marc is one of the most generous entrepreneurs in Chicago and he readily agreed that he would provide the first meal on March 7, 2001. I explained that I was going to be calling others active with GNMAA and asked if it was okay to share that he was willing. He said it was okay with him. The next person I called indicated that he wasn’t too sure he would be willing to provide a meal but when I shared that Marc was going to provide a meal, he and then the others followed suit. Marc still provides a meal every year on the anniversary of his first meal and provides desserts at other times during the year, including at our annual fundraiser. He brings his staff and the chef from Eli’s Cheesecake each time he sponsors the meal.
Gordon: How are the weekly menus planned?
Jacqueline: We have fed every Wednesday since 2001 and we proceed to fill up the meals calendar for each year ahead of time. We advise the meal provider that we want an entrée, vegetable, salad, bread and butter and dessert and they provide us with their menu. Some of the providers have not only prepared the meal but they also delivered it to the dining hall facilities and served it. They used it as an outreach program for their staff. Otherwise, we have volunteers who will pick up the meal and bring it to the facilities. While it is not a commercial kitchen, there is a kitchen where we can keep the food hot or cold until the meal is served.
During this difficult COVID-9 period, we are no longer able to feed in the dining room because of social distancing, but we continue to receive hot meals from our meal sponsors and we put the meals in to-go containers and the meals are handed out to the guest at the front door (all the while keeping social distancing practices).
Gordon: Please detail some of the other services provided through The Chicago HELP Initiative.
Jacqueline: In the past, we served food, but we also served information, compassion and guidance. CHI has served over 180,000 meals since its inception and is pleased to report that, in addition to providing healthy meals, we have been successful in assisting many of those in need in securing housing and jobs and becoming contributing members of the community once again for which we are extremely grateful. By helping those in need, we have been able to allow them to experience a better tomorrow. Now, unfortunately, we are only able to provide hot meals in to-go containers but we do add beneficial items to the bags we give to them, such as hand sanitizer and face masks, plus rain ponchos, socks, tissues and other items that prove useful to the guests.
We are looking forward to the day that we will be able to once again provide access to the many programs we made available to our guests. The programs included employment resources and a jobs club, an adult learning program (encompassing classes in computer training, GED training, reading, creative writing and math), chair yoga, art classes, choir practice, medial assistance, knitting classes, and a Art & Culture Program where we take guests to experience
Chicago’s cultural institutions. Before dinner, a speaker from a local organization gave a brief presentation, typically on resources on finding temporary shelter, housing, medical care or job training. During the meal, guests shared fellowship and, when possible, enjoyed the sounds of a local piano player, singer or musical ensemble and sometimes we played bingo with useful prizes for the winners. While at the meal with CHI, guests also had an opportunity to visit social workers who maintain listings on a wide variety of services, including shelter, legal aid, medical care and job opportunities. CHI partners with local service agencies to provide the needed information.
Every night we had an overflow crowd for the meal. To accommodate the overflow or those guests who, for their own reason, choose not to dine with others, we provided 70 bag meals to take away. The bag meals are donated and prepared by volunteers and offer a full healthy meal.
Gordon: What is the average cost to The Chicago HELP Initiative to sponsor a weekly dinner that would now be put in a to-go container?
Jacqueline: There are individual donors who had come and volunteered at a meal in the past who now sponsor a meal themselves. We have several restaurants who continue to supply a meal for those donors for a cost of between $750 and $850 to provide to-go containers for 200 individuals.
Another possibility for a donation is that we also always gave the guests a “gift” when they left the meal (examples are bar soap, toothpaste, shampoo, hand warmers, winter hats, scarves) and a donation of $200 would cover the cost of the gifts given to the 200 guests receiving a to-go container.
Gordon: When and why did Assumption begin to help sponsor the dinners?
Jacqueline: Father Dowd was the pastor at Assumption when CHI was started and he began Assumption’s sponsorship almost at the very beginning. After his passing, Father Doyle continued Assumption’s sponsorship. Now, with Father Chamblain, Assumption sponsors 4 meals a year and collects knit hats and/or warm socks from the parishioners for the holiday gift bags. In addition, CHI’s literacy program is the beneficiary of funds from Assumption through the To Teach Who Christ Is campaign.
Gordon: Feeding the hungry is a corporal work of mercy and truly defines Christ's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. How can our readers donate to help support The Chicago HELP Initiative?
Jacqueline: When times return to the so-called “new normal” they can certainly volunteer to serve the meal when Assumption is sponsor, or at any other time. We can always use tutors to assist in our Adult Learning Program. We can also use volunteers to help with the Jobs Club. They can sponsor a meal, or sponsor a gift (as mentioned, we distribute an item to each of our guests as they leave the meal). They could volunteer to help at the Bike Fair held in May. We could always use help in picking up the meals. We have various committees where we can use the expertise of a volunteer (PR/Marketing, Programs, Fundraising, Grant Writing )
Those who wish to donate funds can use The Chicago HELP Initiative donate feature at www.chicagohelpinitiative.org.
I wish to point out, that during this difficult time, we are collecting bag meals from 10-10:30 in the front of Catholic Charities at 721 North La Salle Street every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and we are then delivering the bag meals to the many locations where meals had been provided before the coronavirus and which have shut down. On average, we collect over 3,000 bag meals on those days and take them to locations in Lincoln Park, Old Town, Humboldt Park, Gold Coast, Grand Crossing, and other spots as we learn of a need. In additions, we are working with a group of chefs who prepare hot meals in a commercial kitchen and arrange to have those hot meals taken in a food truck to Martin Temple on Mondays, St. Clement on Friday and First St. Paul’s on Saturday. Looks like we will soon be providing a hot meal to a Covid-19 center in Englewood.
Gordon: I know that you have invested thousands of hours of your time in helping address the needs of some of Chicago's poorest residents and that it has detracted from the time spent in your real estate business. Now that you have turned over the responsibilities of serving as Executive Director of The Chicago HELP Initiative to Douglas Fraser, I assume that the commercial real estate values on Michigan Avenue and Oak Street will rise more exponentially with you devoting more time and your exceptional talent to this important market.
Jacqueline: Since we are a volunteer-based non-profit and we only have the two full-time employees (and that is Doug and now also we have a social worker on staff) and two part-time employees, my overall involvement in the day-to-day operations, while less, still takes up a great deal of time and so I was working on bringing a better balance to my day’s activities between real estate and CHI, but since retail leasing is at a complete standstill at the present time and the vulnerability of the homeless population is so very distressing, I am spending more time working with the homeless.
Gordon: What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had upon the homeless in Chicago?
Jacqueline: We all are told to shelter in place and wash our hands constantly. That is impossible for the homeless. Now they even have problems going to the washroom as many places they used in the past are closed (libraries, train stations, etc., etc.) While our lives are upset, their lives are in an even more precarious condition.
As noted above, so many of the places that provided meals to the homeless have closed and The Chicago Help Initiative has stepped up to help fill the void. We work with chefs who prepare hot meals which are then transported by food trucks to various locations around the City, from Grand Crossing on the West side to Rogers Park on the North side. Those hot meals are currently being served on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays and we intend to expand that soon. In addition on Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays and Saturdays, we collect bag meals from 10 to 10:30 in front of 721 North La Salle Street to take to various places around the City to similarly fill in the void of the closed providers. We continue to serve our hot meals on Wednesdays although we cannot have the guests in the dining hall and have to make up to go containers that we hand out instead.
Gordon: Please provide an overview of how The Chicago Help Initiative is addressing the pandemic
Jacqueline: In addition to providing meals, we have been making face masks, hand sanitizers and gloves available to those in need. We are now asking people to donate socks, rain ponchos and tissue (Kleenex) as well.
We are looking forward to the day that we will be able to go back to our usual programs. We found that those programs brought much success in helping those in need to improve the quality of their lives and allowed them to become contributing members of the community once again.
We were so pleased with the positive impact that the programs had on our guests that we produced a documentary (which is in the editing stage at the present time) that we were planning on premiering in late June to show that, with treating our guests with respect and providing programs that helped them, we were able to motivate them to leave the streets. Because of the current circumstances, we will have to add an epilogue to the documentary mentioning Covid-19 and we will advise you when the documentary will be available for viewing.
Gordon: I know that our readers will appreciate viewing the documentary The Chicago HELP Initiative is producing. You have redefined the term role-model for all of us and possibly the definition of what a Catholic can and should be. Thank you for your leadership in Chicago in reminding all of us what Christ truly mean when he commanded us to love our neighbor.