DuPagePads looks to buy, convert Downers Grove hotel to house homeless

Over the past 18 months of the pandemic, advocates for the homeless in DuPage County have been able to house more than 430 people in hotels.

That count includes 130 children who would otherwise be sleeping night to night in congregate, rotating shelter sites that were forced to close when the COVID-19 crisis struck.

"Not only did this save lives in our opinion and reduced the spread, but we began noticing transformations and just really good outcomes for our clients since we've been in hotel-based interim housing," said April Redzic, president and CEO of DuPagePads.

Looking to build on those gains, DuPagePads is proposing to buy and repurpose the Red Roof Inn in Downers Grove as interim housing for people experiencing homelessness.

Since moving clients into hotels in March 2020, DuPagePads saw an 80% drop in mental health incidents and requests for assistance compared to operations in the past, advocates say. The nonprofit agency also reported a fivefold increase in the use of case support services.

"We have an opportunity to apply for some federal funding to make this possible," Redzic said of the hotel purchase. "We didn't want to let this opportunity go by."

One of those grant opportunities would require a DuPage County Board vote. DuPagePads plans to seek board approval of a request to allocate $2 million of American Rescue Plan dollars to help fund the project.

The nonprofit estimates the total cost at $7.5 million. Redzic said DuPagePads has about $1.5 million left to raise in private sources. Several donors have provided gifts so far.

The pandemic "has shaken up our model for what to do with homeless people, and it was successful," county board member Sheila Rutledge said at a recent finance committee meeting. "So I'm happy to see that go forward."

The model helps disrupt the cycle of homelessness, advocates say, because people are given the security and privacy of their own hotel room, along with meals and other on-site services.

"Because people are not traveling from a night site to a night site, but rather have a place to stay during the day, they're able to go to a case manager and get help with items that will get them closer to financial independence," Redzic said.

Families can stay for as little as 24 hours, but in other cases, clients may be housed in hotel rooms for several weeks until DuPagePads helps secure permanent supportive housing.

"Sometimes it's a matter of families who have multiple jobs but they're not earning enough income to afford an apartment, so we help them find a job that will allow them to afford a place to live," Redzic said.

During the pandemic, the nonprofit has booked rooms in three hotels in DuPage, including the Red Roof Inn near Butterfield Road and Highland Avenue. It has paid for rooms with the help of county funding, Redzic said. Hotels also have given a "pretty significant discount," she said.

The Red Roof Inn, located in a highly commercial corridor, would accommodate 130 rooms for temporary housing.

"This proposal is really going to centralize what we've been doing and make it permanent," Redzic said.

DuPagePads would continue to prioritize rooms for families with children, people with mobility issues and those fleeing domestic violence. Clients would be prequalified at another facility before checking into the center.

"We really feel like this is going to be transformational for our county, for the people in our care," Redzic said.

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