We're big enough to address homelessness

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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We've just concluded our 21st season of providing emergency shelter to families and individuals who've lost their homes in west Cook County. For 234 consecutive nights, our compassionate, generous team of 1,000 volunteers created an environment that nurtured the basic well-being of our 541 shelter guests, giving them food, shelter and, most important, dignity and respect. For someone experiencing the crisis of homelessness, the volunteers' unconditional compassion is as important as the food and safe shelter.

For West Suburban PADS, the seasonal donation of 37,932 meals and nightly shelter space made it possible for us to devote 90% of our cash budget to permanent housing solutions and wraparound supportive services that end our clients' homelessness. In 2012, a total of 866 people (130 of them children) from Oak Park and surrounding communities turned to us for help resolving their crises. We prevented 138 of them from losing their homes and provided housing and services for 125.

We launched an outreach program that within 12 months engaged 86 individuals who were living in places not meant for human habitation (e.g. in parks, forest preserves or cars) in Oak Park, Berwyn and Cicero. I'm happy to report we have transitioned 14 of them to stable, permanent housing.

This year, we're embarking on a multiyear expansion of our permanent supportive housing program for persons who are homeless and have a disabling condition (61% of our shelter guests last year). We will increase this program's capacity from 13 housing units to more than 80 throughout west Cook County by 2016.

We were touched and inspired by Rachel Kolodziej's letter to the editor in this newspaper last week [Wanting to see things change, Viewpoints, June 5]. Addressing the problem of homelessness, she said, "I don't know what one voice can do. I don't know what one 17-year-old Catholic high school girl can do. But as a town, I think we can do a lot."

We can, Rachel. And thanks to the giving spirit of this town and others who have stepped up to be part of the solution to homelessness, we are. The economy recovery is not yet big or fast enough to matter for the one out of three Illinoisans living in, or on the brink of, poverty. But we are.

Lynda Schueler

Executive director, West Suburban PADS

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