Filling out a job application after years living on the street is quite a triumph. But a few standard questions remind many homeless individuals that the battle is not over yet. Phone number? Address? How do you explain that one to the boss?
Thanks to the West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) support center, many do not have to. The agency gives its clients phone numbers that connect to personalized voicemail systems. They’re also free to give employers the center’s address at the St. Bernardine’s Convent in Forest Park.
They can use the center’s facilities to wash up, shave and even store their possessions so they don’t have to show up at the interview with a duffel bag. If they get the job, the center can help them attain and pay for transitional housing. If not, they can keep looking at job postings through the center’s Internet connection or in one of the many newspapers it subscribes to.
“They offer some very good services. They treat us with dignity, not like we’re the scum of the earth. That goes a long way,” said one client. “Before I leave and whenever I come in they always acknowledge me ” I appreciate that.”
The center has been located in Forest Park since September, 2000, when it moved from Maywood in order to be more accessible to those who sleep at the agency’s emergency shelter, which rotates between 10 sites in Forest Park, Oak Park, Berwyn, and Franklin Park.
Soon after the move, the center’s clientele jumped from about 100 to 300. In 2004, the center assisted 292 people during almost 4,500 visits. The PADS staff conducts assessments of each individual’s needs and, without pushing too hard, attempts to walk them through the recovery process.
Sometimes this requires treatment for substance abuse or mental or physical illness. In 2003, the agency initiated Project WIN (Wellness Initiative Network), a series of partnerships with local agencies designed to improve access to medical care, prescriptions and treatment.
Other times a client needs some training in basic money management and life skills, which PADS provides through workshops in everything from resume writing to appropriate dress for job hunting.
In some cases, a client is simply down on his luck and needs a boost in self esteem to get motivated to stand on his own two feet.
“We try to meet folks where they’re at. It’s all about relationship building” said PADS Executive Director Lynda Schueler.
“They come for food and shelter, but we want to show them that there are some reasons why you’re here.”
The agency contracts for 31 apartment units in Maywood, Forest Park and Oak Park that are used for transitional housing. If the tenant is employed, they put 30 percent of their income towards rent while PADS picks up the rest. If the tenant is working toward self sufficiency by pursuing a GED or other degree, PADS will write the check in its entirety.
According to Schueler, some former clients who have recovered from homelessness end up taking over the lease on these apartments on their own once they are able to do so. West Suburban PADS is funded through a combination of public and private dollars, and works with an annual budget of about $1 million.
It relies heavily on volunteers and in kind contributions ” all of the food served at the shelters is donated, mostly from 40 faith-based communities, while volunteers donate about 25,000 hours per year.
The PADS emergency shelter helped 462 people last year. Over 30,000 meals were served last year at the shelter, which is open from September to May. At the shelter sites, PADS also provides free volunteer run clinics including a general medical clinic at First United Church in Oak Park on Monday nights, an optometrist every other week and a monthly legal clinic given by pro bono attorneys from Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.
More information about West Suburban PADS is available online at www.westsuburbanpads.org.