'It's going to save lives': DuPagePads asks county to help fund winter hotel stays for homeless

In pre-pandemic times, DuPagePads was providing nightly shelter for about 150 people experiencing homelessness during the winter.

The Wheaton-based nonprofit organization now uses a former Downers Grove hotel to house roughly 300 people every night - including 132 children as of this week. DuPagePads bought the hotel property in the spring with the help of $5 million in funding from the county.

Families who would otherwise be couch-surfing or moving from shelter to shelter each night have a hotel room and access to a case manager and other on-site services, plus privacy and stability.

"They are able to have their own shower, their own safe space," DuPagePads President and CEO April Redzic said.

But the demand for temporary housing is still high. DuPagePads reported 37 people were on a waitlist for the hotel-turned-shelter last week, and the nonprofit's street outreach teams expect that number to rise heading into the winter.

Advocates are asking county board members to consider allocating $250,000 to allow DuPagePads to book overflow hotel rooms for individuals on the waiting list. The board's finance committee is scheduled to discuss the request Tuesday.

"We simply want to make sure that no one dies of exposure because they do not have a safe place to stay this winter," Redzic said.

DuPagePads prioritizes rooms in its interim housing center for parents with children and people escaping domestic violence.

Coronavirus lockdowns exacerbated domestic violence situations. Across the state, the rate of domestic violence "continues to be very high," Redzic said. When domestic violence shelters are full, survivors turn to homeless assistance groups like DuPagePads.

"All of the providers that we have spoken with are full and have waitlists," Redzic said Monday. "We receive that spillover. And we also are just seeing so many people come in who are struggling right now financially."

COVID-19 forced DuPagePads and similar nonprofits to close traditional, congregate shelters, many of them in churches. Advocates moved homeless people from those overnight sites to empty hotel rooms to protect them from the virus.

County board members, in turn, awarded $5 million to help DuPagePads acquire the hotel property and make the arrangement permanent. Of that sum, the county provided $2 million in coronavirus relief from the American Rescue Plan Act.

"Your support and your quick response to our needs undoubtedly saved lives and reduced trauma that comes with being unsheltered, especially for the small children staying with us," Redzic wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to county officials.

The number of people on the waitlist fluctuates, but it's smaller and more manageable than those in neighboring counties that lack a physical space for interim housing, Redzic said.

"While I do not love that we have 37 people right now waiting to come into interim housing, in many counties in Illinois right now it is double that," Redzic said. "And the reason we are in better shape is we've been able to double our capacity to serve since acquiring our interim housing center."

Individuals spend an average of two weeks on the waitlist - "but that's two weeks longer than we would like it to be," Redzic said.

"We still bring families in the day that they seek service because infant and child mortality when homeless is high," Redzic said. "It's just very dangerous for children to be unsheltered. And we are remaining true to our value that no child should sleep in a car."

People stay, on average, six months at the interim housing center. Families typically stay the longest because it's harder for parents to find stable housing with room for their kids.

In DuPage, 44% of renters spent more than 30% of their incomes on rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016-2020 American Community Survey.

"For people to leave interim housing requires a place for them to go, and finding affordable apartments for people in DuPage County remains a challenge," Redzic said.

The proposed funds would enable DuPagePads "to provide shelter, given in one-week increments, at a DuPage County hotel as well as $5,000 for a temporary case manager to manage giving out and renewing the hotel rooms," Redzic wrote in the letter.

The intention is for the $250,000 to come from ARPA funds, a county spokesman said.

"Because we have relationships with local hotels, we anticipate the cost per room per day to be $60 per night or less," Redzic wrote in her letter. "Our goal would be to provide one week of hotel-based shelter, then evaluate whether we have an opening at the Interim Housing Center, and renew for another week until they reach their spot in our waitlist to enter Interim Housing."

DuPagePads looks to rent hotel rooms from December through the end of either February or March to address the waitlist and keep homeless people out of the cold.

"I believe it's going to save lives," Redzic said.

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