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Promoting stability among homeless in McHenry County

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A quarter century ago, several churches in McHenry County created PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter). There was a realization that a segment of our population was homeless, and they needed help with food and a warm place to seek shelter.

Starting in October and ending in April, the churches have tended to the needs of the chronic homeless in our county each night of the week from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. About eight years ago, PADS merged with Pioneer Center for Human Services. The churches and PADS work in conjunction with each other, but each church operates independently.   

These needs have not changed over the years, but the demands placed upon the churches have grown with the increase of our county’s population. This year, the churches have sheltered 222 individual men, women and children. On average, we house 42 people a night with 57 being the highest number a night. The church emergency shelter sites provide a service that not only the homeless need, but our county needs as well. 

In the beginning, there were seven churches; now we have nine churches providing the physical space to host PADS each night. Starting next October, we will need a 10th church to help provide shelter to our homeless neighbors. If your church is able to help, please contact McHenry County PADS at 815-338-5231.

The national average cost to house someone in an emergency shelter is $35 to $50 a day. This means the churches in our county have provided more than $313,000 worth of services this year.

The emergency church shelters do not receive any governmental support. The financial support for the churches is by the generosity of the volunteers, churches and donations made directly to the individual churches. These churches can use your financial support and volunteering efforts.

The McHenry County PADS website lists the churches if you would like to donate to an emergency shelter church site. Additionally, Pioneer PADS can use your financial support as well.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of a chronic homeless person is one who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years and has a disability.   

When many of us think about a homeless person, we conjure up the image of a disheveled person pushing a shopping cart around, and diving into Dumpsters. However, in reality, they are God’s children, just like you and me.

They are the veterans who fought for our country, the troubled youth, the women and domestic partners who have experienced violence, the people who have succumbed to addictions, those with mental illness, and people who have fallen on hard economic times. In short, they are our neighbors who are not as fortunate to have a place they can call home.

The church emergency shelter sites provide shelter to a broad spectrum of the homeless population. Fortunately, we are not the only organizations that provide services to homeless.

Just two of these organizations are Pioneer/PADS and Home of the Sparrow. Pioneer/PADS has day services, case management and transitional living services. Home of the Sparrow provides transitional shelter, apartments, affordable housing and supportive services that foster a sense of lasting self-sufficiency.   

Despite the best efforts of these organizations, McHenry County does not have a centrally located, year-round human developmental facility to provide support to the homeless population. Yes, we need to provide emergency shelter, but we need to promote stability with targeted treatment programs that address each person’s needs.

By creating a more enhanced program, we can lessen the social and economic impact that homelessness has on our county while helping the homeless establish housing.  

Many of these organizations and others concerned with homelessness are members of an organization called the McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness. The vision of the “continuum” is that all individuals and families facing homelessness in McHenry County should have access to safe, decent and affordable housing with the resources and the support needed to sustain these efforts. If you have an interest in helping the homeless in our county, you are welcome to attend “continuum” meetings. The meetings are at 9 a.m. the second Thursday of the month in the McHenry County Government Center building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

• Rich Ring has been volunteering at Saints Peter and Paul’s church in Cary PADS emergency shelter for 23 years.

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