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updated: 12/14/2010 10:34 AM

Suburban shelters seeing more homeless families

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  • Latoya Hawkins gets ready for dinner with her 1 year old son Jermain at the pads family center in Waukegan Monday. Her living area was decorated with garland and Christmas stcokings. The facility is a 24 hour home for 42 clients.

       Latoya Hawkins gets ready for dinner with her 1 year old son Jermain at the pads family center in Waukegan Monday. Her living area was decorated with garland and Christmas stcokings. The facility is a 24 hour home for 42 clients.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • PADS guests line up for a meal as volunteers dish out some food at the Libertyville PADS shelter sponsored by St. Joseph Catholic Church Wednesday. Many of the volunteers were from First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville. About 35 men showed up to the facility Wednesday.

       PADS guests line up for a meal as volunteers dish out some food at the Libertyville PADS shelter sponsored by St. Joseph Catholic Church Wednesday. Many of the volunteers were from First Presbyterian Church in Libertyville. About 35 men showed up to the facility Wednesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Lazarus House Operations Manager Carol Migacz, left, and volunteer Lisa Drummond help serve lunch at the homeless shelter in St. Chalres on Thursday, December 9. At least a dozen people were on hand for the start of lunch and a few more filtered in as the lunch hour went on.

       Lazarus House Operations Manager Carol Migacz, left, and volunteer Lisa Drummond help serve lunch at the homeless shelter in St. Chalres on Thursday, December 9. At least a dozen people were on hand for the start of lunch and a few more filtered in as the lunch hour went on.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Lazarus House Outreach Coordinator Amberly May, and Facility Manager Richard Christensen get lunch ready for a downstairs location at the St. Charles homeless shelter on Thursday, December 9.

       Lazarus House Outreach Coordinator Amberly May, and Facility Manager Richard Christensen get lunch ready for a downstairs location at the St. Charles homeless shelter on Thursday, December 9.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Vocational Assistant Corey Keller sorts through the clothing closet at the PADS shelter in Palatine.

       Vocational Assistant Corey Keller sorts through the clothing closet at the PADS shelter in Palatine.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Volunteer Nan D'Ercoli stocks the shelves with towels at the PADS shelter in Palatine.

       Volunteer Nan D'Ercoli stocks the shelves with towels at the PADS shelter in Palatine.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Sleeping pads line the floor at the PADS shelter at First Congregational Church in Naperville Wednesday.

       Sleeping pads line the floor at the PADS shelter at First Congregational Church in Naperville Wednesday.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Mark Lindley of Naperville pulls pads into the PADS shelter at First Congregational Church in Naperville Wednesday.

       Mark Lindley of Naperville pulls pads into the PADS shelter at First Congregational Church in Naperville Wednesday.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • PADS guest Tabu Jones stakes out his bed at the Libertyville PADS shelter sponsored by St. Joseph Catholic Church Wednesday. About 35 men showed up to the facility Wednesday.

       PADS guest Tabu Jones stakes out his bed at the Libertyville PADS shelter sponsored by St. Joseph Catholic Church Wednesday. About 35 men showed up to the facility Wednesday.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

 
 

The continuing economic crisis is taking a particular toll on children, as more families are being forced into homeless shelters across the suburbs, representatives from those facilities say.

The number of children seeking beds at shelters run by DuPage PADS is up 65 percent over the last two years, said Tim Walker, the organization's development director.

At the Lazarus House in St. Charles, the figure is up a staggering 143 percent from a year ago.

"It is horrid," said Liz Eakins, the associate director at Lazarus House, which serves western Kane County. "It shouldn't be that children are without homes, especially at Christmastime."

Independently run, Lazarus House and the various suburban PADS groups provide warming centers, showers, beds, food and other assistance to homeless people.

Some shelter organizations only operate seasonal centers, typically opening in October. Others offer year-round help for people in need.

In DuPage County, the overall number of people who are seeking shelter this season is about the same as a year ago, Walker said except when it comes to children.

"And it's snowballing," he said.

The situation has gotten so severe, DuPage PADS now operates a family-only shelter at rotating sites in Downers Grove, Naperville and Clarendon Hills every night.

Walker believes homelessness among families is on the rise now, rather than when the recession began a few years ago, because struggling families had a few years to spend their savings before losing their homes.

And before turning to shelters, many families sought help by staying with compassionate relatives, Eakins said. But as their personal financial struggles continued, "maybe that compassion is wearing a little bit thin," she said.

The increase in homeless families is particularly heartbreaking because many are people who had been our neighbors, taxpayers who had been living productive lives until recently, said Beth Nabors, executive director of the Palatine-based Journeys from PADS to HOPE group.

The image of a disheveled alcoholic on a park bench no longer applies.

"You have people coming to your door really paralyzed, not knowing where to turn," Nabors said. "And there's so much embarrassment and shame with becoming homeless that many times they wait before they request help."

Being homeless deeply affects children, said Todd Stull, who supervises counseling services as the clinical director for PADS to HOPE.

"The chaos of not having one home base where they can go to every night and have a place to study and have dinner and sleep can lead to some long-term trust issues and acting out," Stull said.

Classroom disruptions, fighting, declining grades and petty thefts are not uncommon, he said.

"We definitely see that with kids who are in our system for more than a week or two," Stull said.

As a result, the organization tries to move families from their shelters to rental units, relatives or transitional housing within two weeks of arrival, Stull said.

The problem of homelessness isn't limited to children, of course.

The Lake County PADS organization served 813 clients this past October, up nearly 32 percent from 618 a year earlier.

On one recent night, 71 people, including 15 children, filled a church shelter site in Grayslake.

"We almost had to turn people away," said Randy Rossi, a Lake County PADS board member. "Where they would go, I have no idea."

Officials say job loss and foreclosures have fueled a need for shelter. Veterans and other individuals with mental health issues have added to the demand.

"More families. More single, middle-aged women. Evictions. Loss of jobs," said Cathy Curran, executive director of the Lake County PADS. "We have just seen so many more people than last year."

In northern Kane County and Hanover Township, the overall demand has increased only slightly. But as in the other regions, more children are being served, said Dennis Hewitt, executive director of PADS of Elgin.

As of last week, 42 children had sought shelter through the agency, compared with 23 all of last year, he said.

Similar increases have been reported in southern Kane County, McHenry County and elsewhere.

Matt Kostecki, executive director of the McHenry County PADS group, is optimistic about the future, however.

"Hopefully the employment market will get up to par and people will get back to work," he said.

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