Suburban groups work to help homeless survive dangerous cold
For most of us, the extreme cold is a discomfort.
For the homeless, it can be deadly.
So in recent days, groups that aim to provide shelter and services to homeless people in the suburbs have boosted their efforts.
"This is by far the coldest that anybody on staff can recollect, and it certainly can be the most dangerous," said Joel Williams, executive director of PADS Lake County, a group that provides shelter and other assistance to homeless in the region.
More than 100 people have sought shelter at PADS' homeless resource center at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago each of the last few nights, Williams said.
Demand was strong during daylight hours Monday, too.
"We're probably pushing 100 again," Williams said of the daytime crowd.
In Elgin, homeless people who needed a place to seek shelter during the day Monday found it at Wayside Cross Ministries in Elgin. Among them was Tom, 53, who said he typically spends warmer days with his dog in a 15-year-old SUV.
"I start it every once in a while to warm up," he said. "The dog gets the back seat where it's roomy. I take the front seat."
Tom, who has been unable to work because of health difficulties, had quintuple bypass surgery 11 months ago and "went straight from the hospital back to the truck," he said.
"I bought the truck new when I had money," he said. "I worked for 20 years. Now I'm hanging out, sleeping here, there, everywhere."
PADS groups in Lake County and elsewhere use a network of churches and other facilities to provide shelter for those in need at night.
Knowing that brutally cold weather was coming, PADS staffers and volunteers spent the last few days trying to find homeless people and encouraging them to take shelter.
Local police departments and other nonprofit groups have been helping to spread the word, too, Williams said.
Anyone who needs a ride from an overnight shelter to the Lovell Center can get one from PADS, Williams said. The agency will drive people from the center to a shelter at night, too.
If you need shelter in Lake County during the day or at night, call PADS at (847) 689-4357. Staffers will tell you how to find the nearest site or try to help get you there.
Additionally, public and private facilities across Lake County are open as warming respite centers during the cold snap. A list of sites can be found online at findhelplakecounty.org.
"The list is changing constantly," said C. Kent McKenzie, Lake County's emergency management coordinator.
In McHenry County, the number of homeless people in shelters Monday night into Tuesday was expected to be at an all-time high, said Dr. Patrick Maynard, president and CEO of the Pioneer Center for Human Services.
As in Lake County, the organization uses a network of churches to help. It has no permanent center, and this cold weather emphasizes the need for such a facility, Maynard said.
"I think days like today really hit the nail on the head," Maynard said. "We just really need to resolve this."
If you're homeless in McHenry County and need shelter, call (815) 759-7291. You can also go to the nearest train station because Pioneer Center employees driving vans are checking them every 20 minutes or so and taking people to safety, Maynard said.
Homeless people are more resourceful than you might think. And most importantly, they look out for each other.
"Some people who are nominally homeless, family members will open their homes for them in extreme weather while they might not be comfortable taking them in permanently," said Phil Wood, director of Wayside Cross Ministries. "Or a group of homeless people will scrape money together and get a hotel room."
Ron Freeman, president of the board of Journeys/The Road Home that serves homeless people in Northwest Cook County, said finding money for a room might be easier at the beginning of the month when some get government checks such as unemployment.
Wood, whose organization's day center is in the same building where PADS of Elgin has its overnight shelter, said organizations can find out if someone needs help by talking with other homeless people.
"We have a pretty good relationship with the homeless community," he said. "They have a pretty strong network and a good handle on who's out there. We met with a group and asked if they knew of anyone in a challenging situation."
Elgin PADS had to rustle up staff and volunteers to stay open during the day Sunday because Wayside only operates six days a week, said Dennis Hewitt, the organizations's executive director. If people in the area call the shelter at (847) 608-9744, staff will refer them to the agency near them, Hewitt said.
Sixty-five people came Monday to the Hope Day Center in Palatine. The center is operated by Journeys/The Road Home, which also coordinates overnight shelter for homeless people at volunteer religious sites.
Like agencies throughout the suburbs, Journeys has increased the hours at its shelters and the Hope Center to remove that time gap that often exists between the closing of night shelters and opening of day shelters.
The churches serving Monday night planned to find funds to hire taxis for anyone without resources to get to the Hope Center Tuesday morning. St. Mark's in Mount Prospect served Monday night as the emergency shelter for people not registered with Journeys, said Pat Harrington, Journey shelter director.
In Prospect Heights, Mayor Nick Helmer issued a notice that the police department could arrange $45 rooms at local hotels for people losing heat, but no one took advantage, said Police Chief Jamie Dunne.
One warm spot that has been open 24 hours a day for several days because of the cold is the main Wheaton train station, said Gary White, communications manager for the city. Naperville officials prefer anyone looking for shelter help call the police nonemergency number, (630) 420-6147.
In DuPage County, DuPage PADS operates a daytime Client Service Center at 703 W. Liberty in Wheaton. Staff drive or hire taxis for people having difficulty traveling to the congregations that provide overnight shelters on a rotating basis, said Carol Simler, executive director. Three are open each night.
Residents who see people outside should call 911, she said. If the shelters are full, PADS deals with this by notifying the local fire department that they will be exceeding the limits, Simler said.
While temperatures Monday and Tuesday were extreme, Elgin PADS staffers see any day below 10 degrees as one needing special attention, Hewitt said.
"It's kind of what we do," he said. "If we have to do a little bit more some time, we find a way to do it."
• Daily Herald staff writer John Starks contributed to this report.