Without usual homeless shelters available, PADS of Lake County finds alternatives
With standard gathering places no longer an option, those who provide services for the homeless have had to quickly adjust.
In Lake County, that means about 100 homeless people seeking shelter are being housed in hotels, while a "day space" for up to 20 was set up in a Warren Township building in Gurnee.
PADS Lake County has been scrambling for weeks, and though it is dealing with nearly twice the number of people typical for this time of year, it appears to have a handle on the situation. For now.
But the escalating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty whether Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order will be extended are expected to play a big role in how PADS operations continue.
"Nobody knows what's going to happen May 1," said Executive Director Meghan Powell-Filler. "I think when landlords are able to start evicting people, we'll see a significant increase."
PADS typically has rotating sites, mainly churches, available from October through the end of April. The organization adjusted procedures in early March as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidelines regarding congregating in groups.
Higher risk clients, such as those over 60 or with underlying medical conditions, already had been moved to hotels when Pritzker announced his initial stay-at-home order effective March 21.
"That really rushed our plans," Powell-Filler said.
Some churches were willing to continue offering space, but weren't sure how that would fit with the stay-at-home order, she added.
By then, PADS had reached out to various entities and found a willing partner in longtime Warren Township Supervisor Suzanne Simpson. An 8,000-square-foot multipurpose room, the largest part of an addition completed last fall at the main campus on Washington Street in Gurnee, was made available.
"We're a very large township and we have multiple locations and buildings," Simpson said. "I did it out of a moral need for them and I have been incredibly impressed with what they do," she said of PADS.
The area is segregated from the rest of the township building, features a kitchen and restrooms, and provides enough space to allow for safe social distancing, Simpson said.
"Clients do not come and go," she said. "They are screened in Waukegan by PADS. They have to meet the criteria."
Shelter users are allowed to walk the grounds but are monitored by PADS staff and volunteers, she added.
Simpson said there is a general misconception of the homeless, which include families with kids in need.
"It's a lot different than what people think," she said. "They're not filthy bums laying around on the street. It's a stigma I've had to try and erase from people's minds."
Because of the coronavirus, doors are locked and walk-ins are not permitted at PADS' main resource center, 1800 Grand Ave., in Waukegan.
Instead, new clients are met at the door from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by a staff member wearing a mask and gloves who does an assessment and takes their temperature. Case management continues but primarily by phone.
At hotels, PADS staff is delivering mail and food if needed and addresses complaints, though there have been few, according to Powell-Filler.
From mid-spring through summer, PADS normally operates a small shelter for less than 40 people.
"I have to continue now to plan for May 1. What will the summer look like?" Powell-Filler said. "I would like to be able to tell people things but I don't know."