Editorial: DuPage County takes an important step forward using federal money to combat homelessness
A nonprofit group came up with an innovative idea to fight homelessness. Meanwhile, a county board was willing to use millions of dollars in federal money to make a difference.
The result is a project that will help suburban families for decades to come.
DuPage County Board members unanimously agreed last month to give $5 million in federal funding to DuPagePads. Now the Wheaton-based nonprofit organization is close to buying a Red Roof Inn in Downers Grove and transforming the hotel into a 130-unit interim housing center for people experiencing homelessness.
"This puts us in a great position to be able to move forward and do this in the spring," said April Redzic, DuPagePads president and CEO.
DuPagePads provides food and emergency shelter to individuals and families who are homeless. But it had to close all of its overnight shelter sites in March 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak.
So, DuPagePads adapted to the situation and started renting rooms at hotels for its clients. The group has housed more than 450 people, including more than 150 children, in hotels during the pandemic.
Having hotel-based interim housing provided noticeable benefits.
DuPagePads saw an 80% drop in mental health incidents and requests for assistance compared to operations in the past. The agency also reported a fivefold increase in the use of case support services.
"The hotel rooms seemed to be working out quite well because people had more privacy," DuPage County Board member Julie Renehan said. "It's a better situation for families."
County leaders deserve praise for recognizing the value of DuPagePads' plan to acquire the hotel building. DuPage will use federal funds to support the project, including a $3 million Community Development Block Grant and $2 million in coronavirus relief from the American Rescue Plan Act.
"We had an unprecedented opportunity to act on behalf of people facing, perhaps, the most vulnerable time in their lives," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
Cronin said an interim housing center will "answer the question for those who are wondering where they will sleep that night, or where can they find a place to bring their children that is safe."
We have repeatedly encouraged local officials to spend COVID-19 relief money in ways that would have a lasting impact on the suburbs. Given that people have lost their homes because of the pandemic, this is a credible use of federal funds.
The goal is to open the interim housing center in spring 2022. But first, DuPagePads must raise an additional $1.5 million in donations for the project.
Let's hope the group succeeds. This project could help break the cycle of homelessness in the suburbs. It deserves all of our support.