When Pastor Leonard Payton began his ministry at St. John Lutheran Church two and a half years ago, he was pleased to learn that the church had been hosting the PADS emergency shelter every Friday night from October through April since 1997.
‘Jesus is merciful,” he explained. ‘Wefre followers of Jesus. We need to be merciful. Itfs a DNA thing with Christians. Whatfs more, during those 15 years, the church, the school and the day care have had no major problems. Neither have the neighbors.”
What did bother him was the emergency shelter programfs limited ability to get homeless people off the street and into their own homes. He reasoned that because homeless people are like nomads, moving from site to site every evening, itfs difficult to form relationships with them characterized by continuity and accountability which are essential for enabling shelter guests to transition into permanent housing.
As it turned out, Lynda Schueler, executive director of West Suburban PADS, was on the same page, because she and her staff had rolled out a new program in 2009 called the Transitional Shelter Program. Designed for PADS guests who are at a place in their lives where theyfre ready to move from being homeless into their own apartment, the participants must have consistent, verifiable employment or be enrolled in some educational/training program or have an imminent housing plan or be motivated to engage in case management and establish a housing plan.
A key to the success of the program has been addressing of Rev. Paytonfs concern about consistency and accountability. The program is small, with only 12 guests participating and a high staff-to-client ratio. Participants stay at one site for one to two weeks instead of moving every day to a new site as they do in the September-through-May emergency shelter program. In addition, participants are responsible for making their breakfast and lunch, setting up the shelter and taking it down every day and for cleaning up the site before they leave.
Teri Curran, PADS director of programs, said that during the day, the participants move to the PADS Support Center in Maywood to engage in ‘intensive case management, including goal setting, supportive counseling, referrals, mental health and substance abuse services, life skills and support group activities.” Participants are also required to save at least 30 percent of any income they make.
The Support Center aids the job search by offering resources such as computers, a mailing address, telephone, fax machine, voice mail, showers and laundry facilities. Two Americorps volunteers and one social work intern stay with the guests in the evening.
The high staff-to-client ratio is essential because every homeless personfs situation is different. Fred Wilcox, for example, said he was making $100,000 a year in North Carolina as a contractor when everything ‘went haywire.” Faced with surgeries for Crohnfs disease and arterial aneurisms, he decided to move back to Chicago, but found that ‘things had changed in 20 years. All my buddies were gone or dead. I didnft know what to do or where to go. I was sleeping in my truck, when a friend told me about PADS.”
What he likes about the Transitional Shelter Program is that he gets a lot more time with the counselors dealing with his two biggest issues: arranging for the acquisition of the many medications he needs after having undergone three surgeries, negotiating the Social Security system to pay for them, and finding housing that will accept subsidies from Social Security.
Mark Viviritofs story is much different from Wilcox. ‘I had done some prison time,” he said, ‘and I got out and I was lost. A reverend saw me on the street and told me about PADS.”
His big challenge is finding work, which PADS has been helping him with, in part by having him go through their Career Passport Program. He understands that the social workers with whom he is working canft answer all of his questions and that he will have to answer some on his own, but ‘this summer program has been a big help. Now itfs up to me to move on. The rest I have to do myself.”
Schueler said the Transitional Shelter Program was made possible by a three-year grant received from the state in 2009 to bring on eight Americorps volunteers to staff the program. Schueler and Curran are delighted that the grant has recently been renewed for another three years.
Houses of worship hosting the program this summer include Fair Oaks Presbyterian, First United of Oak Park, St. Giles Catholic and St. Christopherfs Episcopal churches in Oak Park and St. John Lutheran Church in Forest Park. Having had such a good experience with PADS since 1997 and being presented with a program that requires little effort on their part and many of the upgrades Rev. Payton was advocating, St. Johnfs board had no trouble welcoming PADS into their building again this summer from July 23 to Aug. 6.
Wilcox testified, ‘I know a lot of people who have been through the program already and they are in their own apartments.” Vivirito added, ‘I would like to come back here and help other people.”