If you ask residents of Forest Park to describe what PADS is all about, they will most likely respond, “PADS, that’s the homeless shelter, right? The one St. John hosts every Friday night where the homeless people get a meal and sleep on a pad on the floor.”
That’s what PADS’ identity was when it was born on Oct. 2, 1992. Initially it was an emergency shelter where the “guests,” as clients in those days were called, were welcomed into the church housing the program for the night, served a hot meal, given a mattress to sleep on and sent out early the next morning to fend for themselves until they lined up the next night at a different church.
The emergency shelter program is still central to what PADS is about, but it may surprise readers to learn that only 10 percent of PADS’ budget goes to supporting the overnight program. Most of the budget is dedicated to getting homeless people out of the shelter and into their own homes.
150 Homes campaign
The national 100,000 Homes Campaign set the goal of finding permanent housing for 100,000 chronic and medically vulnerable homeless Americans by July of 2014. West Suburban PADS has collaborated with about twenty providers in Suburban Cook County to launch what in this area is called the 150 Homes Campaign. The good news is that to date the goal has been exceeded with 358 people, including 118 veterans, having transitioned from homelessness to housing in suburban Cook Co., and since July of 2010, 97,091 individuals (including 28,959 veterans) have been housed nationwide.
To reach their goal the agencies coordinated their gathering of assessment data along with their programming. With Teri Curran, the Director of Operations and Client Services at PADS, serving as co-chair, the alliance standardized the needs of people living on the street by adopting the Vulnerable Index Survey, which is filed on a master list accessible to all providers. Lynda Schueler, PADS’ Executive Director, said this reduced duplication and increased the effective use of resources.
In this part of the western Cook County suburbs, a Street Outreach and Engagement Team of three PADS staff members–funded by the Chicago Community Trust, the Mental Health Board of Oak Park Township, the Village of Oak Park and Cook County–has in the last two years engaged 207 people living on the street and assessed their need using the Vulnerability Index Survey, and 54 of them have been placed in permanent subsidized housing.
Open Door Housing
West Suburban PADS calls its own housing program the Open Door Housing Program. It’s based on the “housing first” principle which, perhaps counter intuitively, seeks to address the issues of the client after they are housed rather than as a precondition to get into housing. The philosophy behind the approach is that clients are better able to address the disabling issues which put them on the street if they have a permanent roof over their heads.
Open Door is a scattered site program in which clients are provided with case management support services like substance abuse programs and employment coaching. Participants in the program must document their disability through a physician or a psychiatrist.
“Landlords like the program,” said Curran, “because we pay them, and we are responsible for collecting the clients’ portion of the rent.”
Partnership with Hines
The Veterans Administration has received a lot of bad press lately, but Schueler said that the 30 staff members of the homeless team at Hines “have done a pretty tremendous job of reducing homelessness among veterans.” Combining resources with the VA, PADS is able to identify more of the homeless population and then with HUD-VASH—U.S. Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Administration Subsidized Housing—vouchers the two agencies have partnered over the last several years to specifically address the needs of the homeless who are veterans.
Because there is an insufficient supply of subsidized housing available to meet the demand for it by homeless folks ready to transition into it, it is important to move people out of subsidized housing into more independent living situations as soon as they no longer need supportive services. The Housing Authority of Cook Co. has dedicated 75 of what they call flow vouchers to subsidize rents for this population.
One of the success stories
Curran told the following story to illustrate how Open Door changes lives: “One of the clients, who had been living on street for over two years, was housed in June in a community nearby. Our staff noticed an immediate change in how he presented, because he was able to shower more consistently and take care of himself. Using the bicycle we got for him, he arrived here at the PADS office on the first of July to hand in his rent check that day, because he was bound and determined to show how committed he was to changing his life.”