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Homeless family close to having permanent housing in Marengo

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 11:50 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 11:51 p.m. CDT

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The fat stack of business cards inside Irl VanPool’s wallet makes the old, tattered piece of fabric nearly impossible to close. Each card is significant to the 63-year-old homeless veteran – a helpful step toward permanent housing as he and his wife reside in Woodstock through McHenry County PADS, a division of Pioneer Center for Human Services.

“It’s been a long journey, but it’s going to be well worth it,” VanPool said. “It’s not quite over yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our family is going to be together again soon.”

The journey is expected to end in Marengo later this month, when the married couple of more than 17 years moves out of the transitional shelter into a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home donated to the Aging and Disability Foundation.

“I had never even heard of Marengo,” said Charlotte VanPool, who grew up on the North Side of Chicago. “This is our dream house and will finally give us stability. Christmas is coming early.”

The couple last year couldn’t afford to renew a lease at the two-bedroom apartment in Cicero they shared with their six young grandchildren and a seventh sibling they are responsible for, Charlotte VanPool said. Now homeless, the grandchildren were turned over to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

They had been caring for the six grandchildren since their daughter and son-in-law had been incarcerated, Charlotte VanPool said. The duo took custody of the 10-year-old sibling when she was 3 years old for unrelated reasons.

The Vietnam War veteran, his wife and the young sibling proceeded to live out of a truck for some time after that, spending the majority of their time parked at the VFW in west suburban Berwyn.

It was there that members of the Berwyn Police Department took a liking to the family, giving them water and food, letting them use their cellphones to call shelters, and even chipping in their own money to put them up in a hotel room for a night.

“All of us tried to help out any way we could,” Berwyn police Detective Rich Novotny said. “We worried about them, especially the girl, and we were able to reach out and give them some options.”

Members of the police department connected the family with representatives from Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood, who referred their case to the Aging and Disability Foundation, a nonprofit focused on finding affordable housing for families, veterans and the disabled.

They moved into the transitional home in September, while the grandchildren remain split between different DCFS housing.

While searching for housing, the Elk Grove Village-based foundation received a foreclosed home on the 400 block of North Taylor Street in Marengo as a donation.

More than $80,000 worth of renovations and improvements to the home later, it is nearly ready for the family, defined by HUD as critically homeless, to move in. 

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Robin Schubitz, Aging and Disability Foundation founder. “It’s building their lives back up and giving them a second chance.”

The couple are confident that when they move into the home DCFS will release the six grandchildren back into their custody.

“If we don’t get them, they will be split up forever,” Charlotte VanPool said. “This home will give them a decent life and get them away from the bad memories, beginning a whole new life for all of us.”

Marengo Mayor Donald Lockhart sees the improved home as a win-win for the family and the city.

“If you would have seen this house prior to the changes, you wouldn’t have believed it,” Lockhart said. “The city is proud to be able to help a homeless veteran.”

This is the third family the Aging and Disability Foundation has placed in affordable housing since the organization was created in April 2011.

“There have been so many people who have helped us along the way,” Irl VanPool said. “Everything appears to be falling into place, and it is amazing what people will do for a veteran.”

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