When the weather turns this merciless, when we are grateful even for our drafty old homes and the heat in our beater old cars, our thoughts inevitably turn to those without those things. What would it be like to be homeless this early January with a foot of snow falling endlessly over 48 hours, with temperatures reaching levels not seen in 40 years, with a new meteorological term – polar vortex – that we’ve never even heard?

As we offer communal thanks to our snow plow drivers and our crossing guards for facing these brutal elements, we also give thanks to the hundreds of volunteers and the staff of West Suburban PADS for the emergency shelters they run each night. 

In Forest Park, St. John Lutheran Church over on Circle Avenue has been hosting the shelter as part of a rotation of church locations for years and years. It is a remarkably smooth-running operation, as reported this week in the Review. Beyond a warm place to sleep, volunteers prepare dinner and also breakfast for the guests. Showers are available. Social workers are on site to solve immediate problems – one mom got a Ventra card to make her CTA commute simpler.

The power of PADS, though, stretches beyond the essential need for emergency shelter. This agency supplies an array of services including transitional housing, legal services to unwind tangles of issues which may have led a person into homelessness, job training prep, connections to other social services.

The ambitious goal of PADS is to eliminate homelessness. And night-by-night that goal begins in welcoming places such as the floor of the gym at St. John.