More Families, Children Homeless in DuPage County
DuPage PADS provides interim housing for those who are homeless, and in the last two years the number of children and families in need has increased 65 percent.
Terry Maulsby has been working with the homeless in the community for about 20 years. In all her years volunteering to help the homeless, one thing that has clearly changed is the people seeking assistance.
"I think that right now in 2010, one of the dramatic changes are the intact families who have lost their homes, lost their housing," Maulsby said. "At the shelter we are not only serving the chronically homeless, but the families who need shelter."
Maulsby is Our Saviour's Lutheran Church's night shelter coordinator for DuPage PADS. Our Saviour's became a summer shelter site location for DuPage PADS four years ago.
During the summer, Our Saviour's can provide shelter to a maximum of 90 people. This past summer the shelter averaged 88 people per night and reached capacity at least two or three times, Maulsby said.
Many people are experiencing the "trickle down" effect, she said. They lose their jobs, they lose their income and then they lose their housing.
DuPage PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), based in Wheaton, provides interim, transitional and permanent supportive housing to those in need. In addition, the organization provides its clients with a number of supportive services including life skills coaching and a daytime support center.
The nonprofit provides shelter to many of the homeless throughout the county. Fifteen percent of those seeking assistance from PADS are from Naperville, according to the nonprofit.
More Families Seek Shelter
A significant change in the last few years is the increase in the number of families and children seeking shelter, PADS officials said.
Over the last two years there has been a 65 percent increase in the number of families seeking temporary shelter, and a 22.5 percent increase this year over last (2008-09), said Carol Simler, executive director of DuPage PADS. The organization has 128 families and 174 children it is assisting.
The main reason people are homeless: insufficient income, Simler said. Of those who report being homeless, 65 percent have a high school degree or higher. The majority seeking assistance, 61 percent, are white, and 70 percent provided a DuPage County address as their last residence.
With more children and families seeking temporary housing, DuPage PADS is working to meet a different set of challenges.
Every night PADS has one site open specifically for families, said Tim Walker, director of development for the nonprofit. The overnight housing is located along the train lines that run between Downers Grove, Hinsdale and Naperville. This makes it easier for children to concentrate on homework and for families to feel secure.
It's Tough Enough Just Being a Kid
In some cases, families are forced to leave quickly from wherever they were living and don't even have time to grab a toothbrush, Simler said. PADS provides school supplies, clothing and other personal care items that might be needed.
By law, children can remain in the school district where they were registered for school, and it's up to the school district to transport them to and from the shelter location to school. DuPage PADS works with the local school districts, which have been very supportive to ensure students are transported. Yet, where a child is picked up in the morning is probably not where he or she needs to be dropped off after school.
In general, it's difficult for families staying at the shelters because they must move from location to location, since the shelters change nightly, Simler said. Raising children in a home is difficult enough, but add in the upheaval of being homeless and other issues can arise. PADS tries to find transitional housing for families as quickly as possible.
"Imagine being a child and talking with classmates who ask: 'Where do you live?' It's hard enough to be a kid and then they have to deal with these issues," Simler said.
Often the children cannot participate in sports events or school functions, Walker said.
"There is just a lot they can't participate in, just because they have to move around," he said.
As of Oct. 1, the family shelter site locations began opening at 6 p.m. for families, so that families with children are able to get settled for the night and children are able to get their homework done. With more children staying in the temporary shelter, there was a need to make some changes to assist them, Simler and Walker said. Otherwise, the overnight shelters are open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
It Takes a Village and Organizational Support
PADS started 25 years ago and chose a congregational space setting for its temporary housing. Today there are 30 overnight sites and more than 4,000 volunteers along with 130 faith-based communities who provide assistance, whether cooking food or serving meals.
"The most rewarding thing for myself as a shelter leader is developing other leaders who will continue to work for DuPage PADS," Maulsby said.
When Our Saviour's was planning to build its Celebration! Community Life Center, it planned the center to be used as a shelter, which was one of the reasons showers were added to the facility, Maulsby said.
"I would hope that being a shelter site empowers the volunteers to understand homelessness and understand that this is a chronic issue in the county and we could benefit from supportive housing," she said. "Having these people on the street is not the way to serve those who are mentally ill or suffering with problems. Compassion and dignity starts with having a roof over your head and having shelter."
Simler said studies show that when a homeless person is given a place to stay permanently with additional support services, it is not as costly to a community as having a person who may be living day-to-day, has no housing and has no choice but to use emergency medical services.
Without required support, a homeless person will spiral down, she said.
PADS partners with more than 80 organizations in the community to meet the needs of its clients. One new partnership is with the College of DuPage, which is offering a GED class onsite at PADS Daytime Support Center.
Along with the college, PADS works with other organizations to provide legal, health, parenting, literacy and job skills support.
"It's very important that people get their needs taken care of," Simler said.
Because of the economy, there are more people who are finding themselves homeless and with the greater need for shelter, more people are supporting PADS, Simler said.
"When the need rises in the community and you can see it, the response from the community also rises," Simler said. "It's tough, but if your mission is strong, the folks who support you will be there. Our folks have nowhere else to go, they have no other choice."
In September, DuPage PADS Run/Walk was held and helped the organization raise $89,000, Walker said. This year, 564 runners participated.
While the nonprofit would never turn down a large donation, typically the average donation from an individual is $30, Walker said.
Along with cash donations, PADS also asks for donations of diapers, toothpaste, gift cards, McDonald's and Wal-Mart gift cards, bus passes and transportation assistance.
For the employees at DuPage Pads, the work to end homelessness in DuPage County keeps them motivated and determined to take on the challenge every day.
"Everyone who works here is driven and believes we can do it," Walker said. "Our staff is here to win."
Simler is focused on helping the children, parents and adults who are using PADS interim housing for a "time in a person's life, not a way of life."
"What keeps me going is the ability to offer possibility to people to make changes in their life," Simler said.
DuPage Pads will host its "Wake Up Your Spirit Breakfast" on Nov. 3. Keynote speaker Liz Murray will talk about her story "From Homeless to Harvard," which was made into a movie on the Lifetime channel. Tickets for the event are $40 each. Learn more about the event at www.dupagepads.org.