As Pat Harrington walks through the day room of JOURNEYS|The Road Home in Palatine, she greets guests by name. As they relax at tables, drinking coffee on a cold winter day, she mingles with them casually -- and congenially.
For more than 15 years, Harrington has served as shelter director for the resource center for the homeless, overseeing the 18 churches -- and more than 2,000 volunteers -- scattered across the Northwest suburbs that host the PADS program, or emergency shelter sites each night.
It has become a labor of love for Harrington, who began on the job around the same time the two agencies -- the Hope Center and PADS shelter sites -- merged and moved into its current location, at 1140 E. Northwest Hwy. in Palatine.
Harrington announced her retirement to colleagues and volunteers last month. Her last day is Friday.
"I've thrived here because of the volunteers and the site directors," says Harrington, a Rolling Meadows resident, "who never miss a shift or neglect a task. Anything that needs to get done, gets done."
She also credits the pastors of the various faith communities -- whom she calls upon often -- with supporting the mission. These churches are located in Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Elk Grove Village, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Schaumburg and South Barrington.
"Over the years, I've made lots of connections," Harrington says simply. "There are a lot of people I've met."
The faith-based shelters are open from Oct. 1 through April 30, and at last week's count, a total of 530 people -- including three families -- had stayed at the sites.
Harrington is quick to point out that these are all people from the Northwest suburbs who have fallen on hard times. PADS of Lake County, DuPage PADS and PADS of Elgin cover people in surrounding counties.
Todd Stull, clinical director at JOURNEYS, says the face of homelessness has changed dramatically over the 15 years since Harrington came on board, with more families with children, and more single women and older adults that are homeless.
"The vast majority of the people who come to JOURNEYS were born and raised in the Northwest suburbs," Stull says. "Pretty much everyone who walks through our doors shares the issue that they can't afford housing, or if they can, are just barely able to make it."
Over those years, Harrington and Beth Nabors, who started as executive director around the same time, wrote out procedures for shelter directors and volunteers, and site directors, like John Bauer of Arlington Heights, who coordinates the PADS site at Our Lady of the Wayside Church, thinks that has been significant.
"Introducing structure to the shelter program has ensured that both guests and volunteers are safe," Bauer says. "She did this while maintaining the dignity of the guests and the loyalty of the volunteers."
As a result of increased procedures, Harrington starts each day looking at reports from the shelter sites from the night before, giving her a roster of who stayed, what time they arrived and whether there were any problems.
At most of the sites, guests need to be registered clients of the JOURNEYS' system, with an existing Pads ID or temporary ID in order to stay.
The detailed reports and registering with the agency reflect a change in the mission, not just to provide emergency shelter but to focus on prevention and intervention.
Once guests are registered in the system, they can receive a wide array of services, including mental health counseling, vocational rehabilitation and housing assistance from the clinical staff at JOURNEYS.
"Pat's leadership in helping the shelters run smoothly and safely has been exemplary," Stull says, "and she helped bring the work of the HOPE Center and PADS shelter together to stabilize our clients' lives."