By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago's historic social services agency Hull House, founded well over a century ago by pioneering social reformer Jane Addams, will close by the end of March due to a lack of funds, the board chairman said on Thursday.
"We are no different than anybody else in the world right now," Hull House board chairman Stephen Saunders said. "We're suffering with this economy."
Saunders said the social service agency has millions of dollars of debt and has not been able to raise enough money to cover operating costs, having fallen short of fundraising goals by $1 million or more annually for the past three or four years.
"It's insurmountable," Saunders said of the situation.
Jane Addams, also a leader in women's suffrage, was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She and her associates influenced policy on public health and education, fair labor practices and immigrants' rights.
She founded Hull House in 1889 to provide services mostly to the city's immigrant community. The current Hull House Association serves 14,000 people, with programs in early childhood development, child welfare and family services such as domestic violence counseling.
Saunders said Hull House was arranging for other social services providers, such as Metropolitan Family Services, to take on Hull House's clients and employees.
"The 14,000 people we serve aren't going to be thrown out on the streets," Saunders said.
Metropolitan Family Services Chief Executive Ric Estrada said the agency was willing to help but was waiting to find out from sources like the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois how funding will be distributed.
"There's a lack of funds all around," Estrada said. "Every place is stretched."
Saunders, describing Addams as "essentially the mother of social services in the city," said another agency would probably apply the Jane Addams Hull House name to one of its programs.
Hull House is not affiliated with the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, which is located in the original settlement house on the city's near south side.
(Reporting By Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)