PADS continues to expand, but slowly

? Ascension declines, but Austin Boulevard Christian says yes.Now they just need to find volunteers to staff the site.

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By KEN TRAINOR

For West Suburban PADS, the local organization providing shelter and transitional services to the homeless, the pertinent numbers are 13 and 14.

West Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) is now in its 13th season, and its goal is to reach at least 14 sites?#34;or two per night. With the addition of Austin Boulevard Christian (ABC) Church in Oak Park (634 N. Austin Blvd.) and another newcomer, Resurrection Lutheran in Franklin Park, the total stands at 11.

Ascension Church in Oak Park, which had planned two more meetings with parishioners to discuss the possibility of becoming a Sunday night PADS site, notified PADS Executive Director Lynda Schueler Tuesday morning that they were withdrawing from consideration. 

The Franklin Park addition is indicative that PADS' reach is extending into the west suburbs as the organization's name implies. Shelter Manager Nolan Nelson said their service area extends to Leyden and Proviso townships, so they're attempting to recruit in those areas.

Schueler said they had made presentations at the Franklin Park church some time back, then suddenly received a call this past summer saying the congregation was ready. "They're just working out some kinks with the village," she said. A church in Maywood has also indicated that they may be ready to join the fold by next summer.

Schueler noted that while expansion is the goal, they're not in any hurry. "We want to take our time and respect the congregations' process," she said. "It takes a lot of energy."

And a lot of volunteers. ABC Church won't open their site until they can put together 4-5 volunteer teams of 15 people each to cover Wednesday nights each month. They also need 4-5 teams of food preparers for each of the meals PADS sites provide (dinner, breakfast and sack lunch).

Many of the volunteers come from other congregations. Ascension, for instance, although it has decided against becoming a PADS site twice, accounts for more PADS volunteers than any other congregation (approximately 200). Schueler said she isn't disappointed when a congregation turns them down.

"I understand," she said. "These are sacred buildings. We try to broach the subject in sensitive ways. We respect the process."

And that process varies. Unlike Ascension, which was more democratic and contentious, ABC Church came back to them with a surprisingly quick "Yes."

It can, however, be a tough sell, Schueler says, and requires careful educating to address many of the persistent myths, usually involving public safety fears. One subcommittee of the PADS board devotes itself exclusively to recruitment and has even produced a manual on how to become a site. They make presentations and try to address the concerns.

"Our structure is very purposeful," Schueler said. "We want this to take place in the community so people can better understand the needs of the homeless." Isolating the shelter in a single facility removed from residents would undermine their mission, which is partly to raise consciousness.

The goal of two sites per night is necessary, Schueler said, because they have consistently had to turn people away for some six or seven years now. Currently, they have two sites on Saturdays and Tuesdays, and they'll have Wednesday covered once ABC Church is ready to open.

The program has two sites now in Berwyn (St. Mary of Celle and Berwyn United Lutheran), one in Forest Park (St. John Lutheran), one in Franklin Park and the rest in Oak Park. There are no sites in River Forest and no other congregations currently considering becoming a site. Anyone interested in getting involved can contact Shelter Manager Nolan Nelson at 488-1724. PADS offices are located in the former St. Bernardine Convent in Forest Park.

The holidays do generate more volunteers, said Schueler, which is helpful because "the holidays can be a pretty depressing time for the homeless. They may be cut off from family and experiencing feelings of shame because of their situation."

To help combat that, a number of choir groups make appearances and volunteers often bring in extra gifts. On Christmas Day, Geppetto's restaurant on Oak Park Avenue has been offering brunch for the homeless from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a number of years.

In general, Schueler said they feel strongly supported by Oak Park. "This village is so privileged to have such rich resources," Schueler said, "such a wealth of non-profit organizations. We don't have assets. We don't want to institutionalize this program."

PADS sites which are currently up and running:
Sunday?#34;Euclid Avenue United Methodist, 405 S. Euclid Ave.
Monday?#34;First United, 848 Lake St.
Tuesday?#34;St. Edmund, 188 S. Oak Park Ave.
Wednesday?#34;Oak Park Temple, 1235 N. Harlem Ave.
Thursday?#34;First United Methodist, 324 N. Oak Park Ave.
Friday?#34;St. John Lutheran, 305 Circle Ave., Forest Park
Saturday?#34;St. Mary of Celle, 1428 S. Wesley Ave., Berwyn
Vineyard (1st & 2nd weeks), 705 W. Jackson Blvd.
Berwyn United Lutheran (3rd & 4th weeks), 2400 S. Harvey Ave.

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