McCaleb: New Pioneer Center facility would help in cold

This week’s dangerously cold temperatures offer an important educational opportunity regarding a human services gap in McHenry County that, with support from the community, easily can be filled.

While none of us enjoyed the bitter cold temperatures in the negative 20s and wind chills in the negative 40s, most of us are lucky enough to have roofs over our heads, HVAC systems pumping warm air into our homes and beds with comforters to sleep in.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

On any given night, about 170 McHenry County residents are homeless. Over the course of 2019, more than 600 residents will experience homelessness at some point, about

28 percent of whom are children.

Thankfully, there are organizations and generous volunteers in McHenry County that provide help.

Pioneer Center for Human Services, through its Public Action to Deliver Shelter program, operates a day and emergency night shelter off Kishwaukee Valley Road in Woodstock. The Pioneer/PADS shelter is the only one in the county open to the entire homeless community. It serves men, women and children.

Unfortunately, our space is only big enough to provide beds to 34 individuals on any given night.

The need in the county is larger than that.

During the seven coldest months of the year (October through April), Pioneer partners with local church communities and their congregations, who generously open their doors during evening and overnight hours to host the dozens of homeless we unfortunately don’t have space for at our Woodstock site.

Although the churches and the wonderful volunteers they provide have been a vital part of PADS’ homeless services for decades, it’s an imperfect solution.

From May through September, the overnight church shelters don’t operate so they can have a much-needed break. Many homeless are forced to sleep in tents or cardboard boxes during these months.

When the church sites are open, PADS clients must be transported daily from our day shelter in Woodstock to the churches that are spread out throughout McHenry County.

Each morning, they are transported back to Pioneer’s Woodstock facility. For individuals who are trying to get back on their feet by applying for jobs, going through job training, etc., it is not ideal.

When the weather turns bad, as it did this week, safety becomes a real concern. What if the buses that transfer Pioneer’s clients twice a day don’t start? What if they get stuck in a snowstorm?

The good news is there’s a much better solution on the horizon – one that eliminates the five-month overnight shelter gap and the daily need to transport from one city to another. But it’s going to take a financial investment on the part of the community to make that happen.

The generous parishioners of the The Chapel in McHenry have donated space to Pioneer Center to allow us to open a 70-bed, fully functional shelter that will allow us to serve our clients at a single location 24 hours a day,

seven days a week, 365 days a year.

It will allow us to close our small, aging emergency shelter in Woodstock for a much bigger one that will enable us to close the decades-long service gap.

And it will enable us to provide these round-the-clock services at a much more efficient cost per client.

“PADS has helped me personally for providing me with hot meals, transportation and a roof over my head,” PADS client Jordan Wisiner said. “I have been to many other shelters, and staff here push the limits to go above and beyond unlike anywhere else I have been. PADS is a wonderful place, and if you use it and take advantage of it, you can get back on your feet. They are like the friend who is always there to help. Staff actually cares and treats you like human beings and not like we are a disease.”

Of course, there is an added cost to expanded services, so there will need to be funding. Unfortunately, local, state and federal government support very little funding for PADS homeless services. More than 80 percent must be raised from the community.

Pioneer Center has put together a budget proposal that shows we’ll need about $1 million a year to operate PADS under the expanded services. We raise about $600,000 a year already, so our gap is $400,000 annually.

In a community as generous and prosperous as McHenry County, certainly we can raise that.

Pioneer Center is looking for individual, business and other generous community members to help make this work. To learn more, call Pioneer at 815-344-1230 or visit Pioneer’s website at www.pioneercenter.org.

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is chairman of the Pioneer Center for Human Services Board of Directors.