This pandemic is a scourge. Lives on hold or upended. Loved ones ill. Hope squelched. Jitters and tears in abundance.
But as they say, a scourge is a terrible thing to waste. And so we continue to watch with awe and respect as local nonprofits on the absolute front line of this blistering moment make leaps only a circumstance of such chaos and crisis make possible.
On today’s front page, we report on Housing Forward and the one-year lease it has signed for all 65 guest rooms at the Write Inn, the vintage hotel on Oak Park Avenue just north of Scoville Park. The Write Inn has been closed to all guests since the pandemic first took hold in March.
Now those rooms will be put to positive use as a centerpiece of Housing Forward’s interim housing program. This is a solid step up from the overnight shelters in a rotation of local churches that were the foundational strategy of Housing Forward for its first 27 years, many of those years under the name West Suburban PADS. The pandemic made the church-based shelters untenable. Too many people, in too close quarters. They closed down in late winter.
Housing Forward ramped up its interim housing plan back then, renting rooms in local hotels which had plenty of rooms to spare. This model can be a genuine path to permanent housing for many people enduring homelessness. It goes a long way to bringing individuals fully into the nonprofit’s extensive services — health, job training — rather than just keeping people warm and fed on a cold winter night.
Lynda Schueler, the nonprofit’s longtime leader, says some version of this care “is going to be our future.” Offering wraparound services, moving people from interim to permanent housing, she says, will help Housing Forward meet its goals. “We don’t want anyone to be acclimated to the circumstances of homelessness. We want to make sure that homelessness is rare and brief and short term.”
COVID karma makes this possible. Federal and state money from the CARES Act was funneled to the village of Oak Park which took a notable affirming step in setting aside $400,000 to battle homelessness. The charming Write Inn is available because people are not traveling. In leasing its facility to Housing Forward, this locally owned hotel is also given a lifeline to better days.
Housing Forward is hardly alone in its visionary work during these grim days. But this bold step is remarkable and needs to be recognized.