Lake County homeless agency boss says clients going back on 'emergency accommodations'

Homeless agency clients who would have been transferred to a now-rejected site near Lake Zurich will have nowhere stable to live after a lease expires at another facility in June, according to the organization's executive director.

Joel Williams, who heads PADS Lake County, addressed the possible fate of 13 Safe Haven program clients after the Lake County zoning board of appeals ended a three-session public hearing Tuesday by reversing an administrative decision to issue a government use occupancy permit for the former Midlothian Manor. The permit was necessary for PADS to move the 10-year-old program to the vacant building in a residential neighborhood at Midlothian Road and Lakewood Lane near unincorporated Ela Township.

Williams said he's concerned because the Safe Haven program's lease at Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago is expiring and the chronically homeless people with mental illness it serves will be forced to leave the space with no replacement housing.

"Well, basically, our only fallback is emergency accommodations," Williams said after the hearing. "We're going to need to be out of (Lovell) by June 30. The only thing we can count on is a shelter system. Whether that is with our partner churches or whether that is hotels or whatever, we're going to have to force them back into night-to-night accommodations."

PADS runs emergency winter and summer shelters at rotating Lake County locations. The agency served 1,889 people who spent a combined 38,425 nights in shelters, according to the 2013-14 annual report.

Williams said it'll be difficult for the fragile Safe Haven clients who have become accustomed to having a steady roof over their heads.

"It's very difficult for them already, struggling with past experiences of homelessness," he said. "To be facing it again is certainly a challenge. We're going to do everything in our power to make sure that they have a safe, stable place to live."

An objection to the government use occupancy permit lodged by the Residents for an Engaged Community opposition group led to the zoning board of appeals hearing. The Lake County Housing Authority owns the 14-unit Midlothian Manor building and would have rented it to PADS.

While the housing authority is a government agency, PADS is a private, nonprofit organization. Officials said the housing authority spent about $100,000 to renovate Midlothian Manor, a former senior facility that PADS had expected to move into early this year.

Similar to the Lovell operation, a PADS employee would have been at Midlothian Manor 24 hours a day, with help from a full-time Safe Haven program manager and clinical social worker. An advanced practice nurse also would have served the residents living in dormitory-style rooms.

Under cross-examination during the hearing by Residents for an Engaged Community attorney Daniel Shapiro, Williams said Midlothian Manor is the only viable place in Lake County to move the Safe Haven program.

"The other places we looked were, for lack of a better term, like warehouses," Williams said after the zoning board of appeals decision. "And you can't be putting people in warehouses and have a lease or expect them to live there. Then, it's a shelter; it's not housing."

Shapiro said the government use occupancy permit for the PADS plan in a residential neighborhood never should have been issued by the Lake County building, zoning and development department.

"What happened here was wrong," Shapiro said. "It doesn't fit."

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