Passing the time waiting to see one of the caseworkers at Journeys|The Road Home, a Palatine-based agency that provides care for people who are homeless, is not an altogether bad experience. The people are friendly and the clients can use the facilities to take a shower, do their laundry, pick from a big selection of donated clothes, or get a hot meal.
But the wait could get longer, and the services less effective, this fall.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has provided Journeys grant money for years -- including around $187,000 this year -- said last month that it is cutting its funding for the organization's support services, effective Oct. 1. According to Journeys, HUD is refocusing its efforts on housing grants, and rescinding funding for supportive services.
Suzanne Ploger, Journeys' director of development, said the money from HUD accounts for 21 percent of the agency's operating budget. If Journeys isn't able to find a way to make up the difference, it will be a major blow to the organization's efforts to help homeless people in the Northwest suburbs get back on their feet.
Part of what sets the agency apart is that it employs professional case managers to provide free personal attention to each client, Ploger said. The managers work with clients to address the core issues that have them homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
"We're not just giving them a bag of food and sending them on their way," she said. "We don't tell people how to fix their situation; we listen to them and find out what we can help with."
Without HUD funding, Journeys officials say they will have to reduce counseling and one-on-one support for the homeless and at-risk populations. Currently, between 40 and 60 people visit their HOPE Center, which provides, on average, over 20,000 services to almost 1,100 individuals annually, according to Journeys.
Jonathan Rapp, a Journeys case manager for 12 years, said it is the only agency he is aware of in the area that provides such comprehensive services. It's a level of service that takes time and resources, of which there never seems to be enough, and will become even more scarce with the HUD cuts.
"On a given day, our case managers are seeing anywhere from eight to 15 people in an eight-hour day on top of all the administrative work that is required," said Rapp, one of the agency's five case managers. "Any reduction in the funding that we have for those services is going to directly harm the clients that we are serving."
And they are serving more and more clients. Journeys saw 11 percent increase in its caseload in the last year -- thanks in part to the state of Illinois. While Journeys doesn't rely on state funding, many other agencies providing similar services do.
"We are a safety net agency that tries to catch as other agencies can't keep up with demand," Rapp said. "There really isn't anybody beyond us. If we can't catch you, you are largely on their own."
Rapp said state funding has been unstable for longer than just the most recent budget troubles, and it is one of the reasons Journeys has long avoided seeking it.
"I've seen a lot of agencies and a lot of my peers at other agencies who've gotten jobs and then lost them months later because state funding is unreliable," Rapp said.
In addition to its other services, Journeys operates two apartment buildings in Palatine as part of its Housing Readiness Program.
"So really our clients can come to us for the full continuum of care," Ploger said. "And that's why funding is so important -- because not only do we house people, we also provide the supportive services they need."
For more information on the services Journeys provides or to make a donation, visit journeystheroadhome.org. The Journeys center is located at 1140 E. Northwest Hwy. in Palatine.