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Sleep out to help homeless

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Homelessness in McHenry County is a growing problem.

Most of us probably don’t directly see it even on rare occasions, let alone on a day-to-day basis.

But the statistics don’t lie.

Since 2009, Pioneer Center for Human Services/PADS has seen a 48 percent increase in local homelessness. McHenry County PADS, a division of Pioneer Center, provides emergency and transitional housing to local people experiencing homelessness as well as support services designed to transition individuals from homelessness into permanent housing.

Last year, PADS saw a 27 percent increase in homeless veterans, a 26 percent increase in transitional youth needing services, a 20 percent increase in families requiring shelter and a 17 percent increase in women seeking shelter.

Unfortunately, there are no permanent shelters in McHenry County. Thanks to the generosity of local churches, PADS operates several rotating, overnight shelters during the colder months. But once the calendar turns to May 1, those shelters stop operating until November.

Sadly, as the state of Illinois continues down its path toward fiscal insolvency, it does not have the money to fund much-needed programs that help the homeless.

So Pioneer/PADS gets the vast majority of its money from the generous donations of local people and through fundraising.

And Pioneer/PADS’ biggest fundraiser of the year, SleepOut for Shelter, is just around the corner.

Before I go any further, I need to disclose that I am a member of Pioneer Center’s Board of Directors, and I am the board’s liaison to the SleepOut for Shelter Committee. I’m directly involved in this fundraising event. Keep that in mind as I make my pitch for your support.

It costs about $670,000 to fund the homeless programs that Pioneer/PADS provides each year. That does not include the cost of running the overnight shelters, which the churches largely fund. While the United Way of McHenry County, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the McHenry County Mental Health Board provide some of that funding, about $350,000 comes through community donations and fundraising.

That’s why supporting events such as SleepOut for Shelter is vital. This year’s event will be held May 11 on the property of Living Waters Lutheran Church, just off Miller Road in south Crystal Lake. Participants pay a small entry fee or seek pledges, and then spend the night outside, sleeping under the stars in tents, boxes or cars.

Last year, more than 500 community members participated, and about $60,000 was raised. This year’s goal is $80,000.

You don’t have to spend the night at the event site to participate, but it’s a lot of fun. There’s a bonfire, food and drink, live music, storytelling, games and more.

Registration remains open at www.pioneercenter.org. Just scroll down and find the SleepOut for Shelter link under “Events.” If you can’t or don’t want to sleep out, consider sponsoring one of the teams.

Every dollar raised goes to help our neighbors who are experiencing dire situations.

• • •

More honors: The Northwest Herald placed nationally in a couple of presitigious national journalism contests last week.

The Local Media Association honored this newspaper with three second-place finishes in contest results announced Tuesday.

Competing in the largest circulation category against newspapers across North America, our “Everday Heroes” special section honoring unsung local volunteers finished second in the Best Special Section category.

Our investigative series on the effects of the housing crisis locally, “Housing Road Map: A Survival Guide,” finished second in the Best In-depth Reporting category. And former Northwest Herald night news editor Dave Lemery finished second for Best Front Page Design.

In a separate national contest, Northwest Herald sports columnist and Bears beat writer Tom Musick placed second in column writing and fourth in beat reporting in The Associated Press Sports Editors’ annual contest. Musick was competing against other sports writers from newspapers across the country with daily circulation between 30,000 and 75,000.

Congratulations to Musick, Lemery (who now is managing editor of Suburban Life Media, also published by Shaw Media, Northwest Herald’s parent company) and all those involved in “Everyday Heroes” and “Housing Road Map.”

• • •

Support local: Speaking of contests, voting remains open in Northwest Herald’s Best of the Fox competition.

Support your favorite local restaurants, retailers and other businesses by voting them your favorite.

Visit NWHerald.com, scroll down the home page a little, and find the Best of the Fox link on the righthand side. There, you can vote in more than 150 categories ranging from dining to shopping to services.

Voting remains open until April 30. Winners will be announced in a special section that publishes June 9.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is group editor of Shaw Media’s suburban publications, which include the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at dmccaleb@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Dan_McCaleb.

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