Housing Forward turns 30 this year
Housing Forward celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Since the nonprofit was founded in 1992, the agency known then as PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) has served 17,000 homeless people and grown from an all-volunteer organization to a with a staff of over 70 and a budget of $13 million.
When word got out in 1991 that members of the Congregational Community, along with an informal group of clergy in Forest Park, planned to open a homeless shelter, many residents of the Three Villages area have pushed back.
First of all, they said, we don’t have any homeless people in town. And second, they argued that a shelter would attract homeless people from the city who would bring crime and disease with them.
Reverend Dean Leuking was the pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest at the time. “It was in my mind,” he recalls, “that people were homeless in River Forest and the reason for that was people knocking on the door of the church telling me they were homeless and they were hungry.”
When Leuking proposed Grace as a site for the new outreach, the village of River Forest raised several objections. Richard Mertens, attorney and member of Grace, recounts what happened next.
“We found ourselves in front of the council of the village of River Forest for probably months. There was certainly some reluctance on the part of the board to allow Grace to house the PADS folks overnight. They were looking at it from a zoning perspective saying there was no permission in the zoning ordinance for such use of the property.
“We took the position that as a church it was part of our calling, which is to serve those in need. We were a church established there and we were just doing what churches do. What finally happened after several months of trying to sort this out, the village took the position that they could regulate the way we operated. So the village issued an ordinance with many requirements like needing so many showers available, having a room with specific dimensions and having certain sanitary facilities available.
Long story short, Grace complied with the stipulations and took turns hosting the shelter for two years.
Reverend Greg Dell, pastor of Euclid Methodist Church, and Juanona Brewster were elected co-chairs, and several months of organizational meetings culminated in the creation of Tri-Village PADS.
The new organization opened its first site in October 1992 at the First United Church of Christ in Forest Park. Mattresses were laid out on the floor, a meal was prepared and volunteers set up to take care of the expected crowd. But, much to their disappointment, no one showed up.
Housing Forward is not a religious organization per se, but without the local churches it would not have survived and grown as an institution – in the breadth of its service area, in the number of clients served and in maturity as an organization.
PADS adopted a model that lasted 28 years. It included an emergency shelter program that rotated every night. Until 2020 when COVID hit, the gymnasium at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Forest Park served as a Friday venue for many years.
The routine at each site was the same. The volunteer site captain and assembly crew would arrive around 6:00 p.m. to set up the tables and lay out the mattresses for about 40 people on the floor with a separate section for women and children. Around 6:30 p.m., the dinner team would bring in pre-prepared food and/or start cooking.
Guests entered the establishment at 7:30 a.m. and chose a mattress for the night. Once done, the dinner team and volunteers from the set-up team would serve the 40-50 people seated around tables set up with the mattresses.
Will Kasander was a member of the First United squad at Oak Park. He saw guests, as they were once called instead of customers, thank God for another day when they woke up.
“It surprises me because I think waking up like that would be a difficult and scary thing,” Kasander said in an interview with The Wednesday Journal several years ago. “But many guests wake up with a positive attitude and a cheerful disposition.”
“It was extremely rewarding,” said Nancy Carleton Pennington, “to be able to connect them with services beyond overnight stays. I was working in child protection at the time and was sometimes able to helping parents find children they had lost because their homelessness prevented them from being able to take care of their children.
In 1999, the nonprofit organization changed its name to West Suburban PADS, as its service area expanded from the original three villages to what would become 26 communities in the western suburbs.
In its first 15 years, PADS grew into an agency with a budget of $1.3 million and a professional staff of 15 people. medical and health issues and services to help prevent homelessness.
This expansion necessitated the expansion of office space. Mary Richie was the secretary of the agency’s board of directors at the time of the transition. “At first,” she recalls, “our offices were in the basement of a church in Maywood, but unfortunately it flooded when it rained.”
The organization moved to what was once the convent of St. Bernardine Catholic Church in Forest Park, then to its current location at 1851 S. Ninth Ave. at Maywood.
Perhaps the most significant event in this chapter was the hiring of Lynda Schueler in 2001, who has since served as the agency’s executive director.
Heidi Vance, co-owner of Team Blonde on Madison St. and currently president of Housing Forward, used the words “agile” and “creative” to describe her board and Schueler.
An example is a program they ran until 2017 with the West Cook YMCA called Interim Housing. Pursuing the prevention objective, the program provided an SRO (single room occupancy) room for single men at a low cost. Phil Jimenez, the Y’s director, described the program as addressing the “upstream” issue of real homelessness.
On December 31, 2015, West Suburban PADS announced that it was entering the new year with a new name, Housing Forward. Its mission had evolved to “move people from housing crisis to housing stability”. The name was changed “to better express the holistic nature of its solution to homelessness.”
Tony Mitchell, Board Member of Housing Forward and Unity Temple, said: “The most valuable and meaningful part of my week is the time I spend on Friday evenings serving clients in one Housing Forward night shelters. While serving a meal, playing cards or sharing a conversation, I have the unique opportunity to be with people who may have less material resources than many of us, but who appreciate these gifts more. than most of us. I am humbled by their dignity and faith in a world that often offers them little of either.
Amy Morton, a member of the Catholic Church of Ascension and captain of the PADS site on the second Friday of the month, said, “I think for me, volunteering here makes homelessness real and very possible. There are a lot of people here who had everything they needed, and they became homeless. For me it is there, but for the grace of God I will. It makes me grateful for my safety net, grateful for my family and all the relationships I have.
“I know many families struggling with alcohol, mental health and employment issues,” said fellow Ascension member and longtime PADS volunteer Maureen Crotty. “PADS allows me to be ‘part of a solution’ by providing essential food and shelter. I am deeply grateful to be able to be part of a network of support and mutual aid on the second Friday of the month.
Several young people came with their parents to volunteer at the emergency shelter. Audrey Benzkofer, 8, is a member of the Catholic Church of Ascension, and her brother, 12, both admitted to being nervous the first time they volunteered, but Audrey added: “The rest was kind of fun.” Sam said: “It made me think that even though I was tired, these people were 10 times more tired and they had a much worse week than mine, even though I had a terrible week.”
The rotating emergency shelter site model proved sustainable for 28 years, until COVID-19 hit the region with a vengeance, forcing the agency to rotate in no time. On March 12, 2020, it went almost overnight from a collective shelter model to housing guests in separate rooms at four different hotels in the area.
Vance recalled, “I’m so proud of how nimble the board has been in helping Lynda make the literally deadly rapid changes caused by COVID.”
The hotel move saved lives in the short term, but is not organizationally or financially sustainable, even with the help of FEMA.
“The Village of Oak Park,” Vance said, “approached Lynda to make the Write Inn the single place where all guests would be housed, a move that would be more sustainable in the long run, make it easier for social workers to connect. with clients, giving clients faster access to permanent housing and improving their overall health.
She said moving into the Write Inn opens up the possibility of creating 15 units (sleeping up to 19 people) dedicated to Housing Forward’s medical respite program, which provides a place for homeless people undergoing surgery, such as a colonoscopy. , and shelter for those with nowhere to go after surgery.
Lynda Schueler reported that currently 70% of interim housing program clients who are in the first year of the program are no longer homeless but are living in permanent housing.
Vance also acknowledged that some homeless clients don’t fit neatly into the Housing Forward model which views clients as having a bad luck streak, needing a safe place to get back on their feet, and returning to employment fairly quickly and their. residence.
“For this reason,” she explained, “we are building a facility in Broadview which we call for now Broadview Supportive Permanent Housing (PSHB) for people who basically cannot live without supervision, can’t find the means to finance themselves and/or need more on-site case management.”
Housing Forward will celebrate this milestone at its 2022 Have-a-Heart Gala at the JW Marriott in Chicago on May 21.