The Lyte Collective is a community rooted in their love of young people. Located in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood at 549 E. 76th Street, the Lyte Collective supports people impacted by poverty and homelessness.     

Founded in 2016 by a group of social workers who wanted to create a more equitable system, the Lyte Collective works to end harmful practices such as lack of available low-cost housing, poor economic conditions, and insufficient mental health services that cause young people to experience homelessness. In 2021, an estimated 68,440 people experienced homelessness in Chicago with 11,885 being youth, according to a report by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Despite Black Chicagoans representing 29% of the city’s population, 53% of Chicago’s unhoused community are Black.

Carl Wiley, Lyte Collective’s chief creative officer, said those statistics did not go unnoticed when creating a space on the South Side for young people. In the beginning stages of looking for a location, Wiley and his staff spoke with then-alderperson Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) about opening a community center in his ward.  Sawyer indicated that the community wanted a community center in the neighborhood. Sawyer helped them to locate a location, an abandoned church and daycare facility.   With over $2 million needed in upgrades and repairs, the Collective raised $1.8 million through fundraising and grants. In 2022, the Lyte Lounge opened. 

“We noticed all the programs and services for young people were located primarily on the North Side with small pockets on the South and West sides. You can’t tell young people experiencing poverty and/or homelessness to travel 45 minutes or more on public transportation to get assistance or help,” Wiley told The TRiiBE. “There’s a disconnect between where the resources are located and where the youth are seeking them.”

The Lyte Collective relies on fundraising, grants and donations by the public, including a registry at Target to sustain itself.

A young man sitting at the computer & utilizing the music studio space at Lyte Collective
“It’s not just therapy, sometimes our young people write lyrics, create art or paint something about a trauma. It’s like a cathartic release.” Sept. 14, 2023. Photo by ANF Chicago for The TRiiBE®

With the reintroduction of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s “Bring Chicago Home” resolution in the city council, solutions to end the crisis of the unhoused is a key priority. 

The Lyte Lounge is not your typical community center. It’s warm and inviting with friendly faces. The lounge provides holistic support for unhoused youth, and safe and affordable housing as well as mental health support. It also offers access to freshly prepared meals by an onsite chef, showers, and storage for personal belongings and laundry. Community providers are also available to offer medical and legal assistance. For many, the Lyte Lounge serves as a resting place. The space offers resting/medication rooms. 

“Young people come in and tell us how unsafe they feel outside, and others just need a place to rest after spending all night in the streets or riding on trains. They tell me, ‘I’m so tired. I just want to take a nap,’ so we let them rest”, Wiley said. 

The Lyte Lounge also serves young people in the community by giving employment and education support. Educational programming at the Lyte Lounge includes GED completion, enrollment in high school, basic literacy and assistance with college applications.   

To help their community secure job opportunities, LYTE staff works to build relationships with employers throughout the city to hire youth.

In addition to the many services offered at Lyte Collective, there is a recreational area with ping pong tables, board games, an outdoor playground and garden, and a gym where visitors enjoy movie nights, basketball games and even double dutch.  The space also includes a dedicated area for young children and babies.  

Recreational activities and creative arts are offered as well, something that Wiley said is critical to addressing some of the traumas young people are facing now. As licensed social workers, the staff at the Lyte Collective have therapy sessions for young people.  Wiley said young adults are dealing with a wide range of traumas. Often overlooked are the number of young people who are unhoused due to exiting the foster care system or those who were formerly incarcerated as juveniles.

“From dysfunctional and toxic family relationships, abuse or financial difficulties, the weights our young people are carrying is great,” Wiley said. “There are so many reasons our young people are experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness.”

 The Lyte Lounge offers a music studio, art room and various programming that stimulates creativity.  “Young people are asking for this,” Wiley said, “and here, they don’t have to jump through any hoops. If you want to come in and learn this stuff, you can.” 

Visitors can play and learn music on various instruments, learn how to produce and record music in a state-of-the-art recording studio or learn how to edit and produce videos and more. Wiley said when young people express themselves creatively, it can serve as a form of therapy.  

“It’s not just therapy, sometimes our young people write lyrics, create art or paint something about a trauma. It’s like a cathartic release,” he added.

Young people enjoy anonymity at the Lyte Lounge, so Wiley shared the story of a young teen who was kicked out of her house after coming out to her ultra-religious parents. Growing up, she enjoyed singing gospel music, but the trauma of being rejected by her family and church caused her to stop singing. 

Wiley recalled the day she entered the recording studio for the first time and sang a gospel song. “I was floored listening to her sing. She sounded so amazing but more importantly, I watched as she reconnected with something that brought her joy at one point in her life” he said.

“I think that’s what sets us apart,” Wiley said. “There’s a real relationship we have to the young people we serve, and it goes beyond their time here. These are lifelong bonds we create with young people. This is what they need, and this is why we are here.”

It’s those personal connections that create the most transformational bonds at the Lyte Lounge. 

“It can be a gradual process,” Wiley said. “One day we are working on art or music together and the next day, I may ask, “hey, what do you think about returning to school, or reconnecting with your family?” 

is a freelance contributor for The TRiiBE.