Daily Herald opinion: Temporary shelters envisioned in Elgin would protect homeless and offer the hope of transition

Elgin officials for years have talked about finding ways to help put homeless people back on their feet.

Now they are proposing a highly creative solution to the complicated problem.

City council members last week agreed to set aside $940,000 in next year's budget to help pay for a project to build temporary shelters for Elgin's homeless population.

If the idea becomes a reality, the city will construct shelters for about 50 homeless individuals at a yet-to-be-determined location. Many of the people who would stay in the transitional shelter community currently live in a tent city between Route 31 and the western bank of the Fox River.

The city partnered with One Collective Elgin and other nonprofits to develop the solution.

"This project will create a no-barrier community that provides adequate shelter for the city's unsheltered people," Assistant City Manager Karina Nava said. "This initiative creates a focus on the well-being of the unsheltered population and the city as a whole by utilizing a transitional community that is supported by citywide collaboration."

Our Rick West reported that the project is similar to other programs, including one in Madison, Wisconsin. Each shelter would have electricity, air conditioning, heat, a bed and storage space.

Homelessness is a complex problem caused by various factors, including unemployment, substance abuse and mental illness.

One advantage of Elgin's proposal is that it includes an on-site community building with restrooms. Staff would be there 24 hours a day. And services, including food and counseling, would be facilitated by the Ecker Center, the Association for Individual Development and the Elgin Cooperative Ministry.

So Elgin's transitional shelter community would do more than give homeless people a safe and comfortable place to stay. It will provide them the opportunity to get the help they need to overcome the issues that led them to live on the streets.

Meanwhile, West reported that the project would constitute the first phase of a plan that eventually moves the residents to transitional housing.

It reminds us of what one group did in DuPage County.

DuPagePads bought a hotel in Downers Grove and converted the building into an interim housing center for people experiencing homelessness. DuPage County government contributed $5 million in federal funding to help pay for the project. Today, the facility provides 130 rooms for temporary housing.

Because there's no quick fix for homelessness, it's a problem that is difficult to confront. Fortunately, the city of Elgin and other local entities aren't letting that stop them.

Currently, Elgin's unsheltered population is around 70 people.

Will all of them find permanent housing through the city's efforts? Probably not. But Elgin officials deserve praise for trying to help whoever they can.

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