An Oak Park building where the chaplain once lived has been converted into an emergency overnight shelter.
The shelter at 38 N. Austin Blvd. – Once the rectory for St. Catherine of Siena /St. Lucy Parish – Open daily from 7pm to 6:30am until April 30. Guests will be served a hot dinner, a continental style breakfast and a large lunch upon departure.
The shelter is operated by Housing Forward, a non-profit organization serving homeless residents in western Cook County. The staff, along with volunteers from the church, spent six weeks converting the space, work which included installing showers and a vinyl floor.
“With COVID over the past few years, it has been tough to have space for shelters,” said Carl Morello, pastor of the new St. Catherine-St. Lucy and St Giles United Parish. “So it was exciting for me, and for this group working on this, to be able to help make that happen.”
The shelter will have room for about 10 guests, Morello said, with room for a few more people in case of emergency. The former rectory suites offer more privacy and can be used by families or small groups.
Funding was provided by the Village of Oak Park as well as an Illinois Department of Public Health grant supporting the new emergency shelters over the winter. Takeout 25, an Oak Park Food Sustainability Group, will provide hot meals from nearby restaurants.
Housing Forward engagement specialists will be available throughout the evening to help connect guests with other types of support.
“While we want to help each and every individual solve the homelessness crisis, we also recognize that not everyone is ready,” said Eric Johnson, Chief Development Officer. “We’ll have to follow how they’re getting at it.”
Knowing that demand can be high and bed space is limited, Johnson said the team is taking operations one night at a time. Law enforcement and hospitals can send guests to the Oak Park shelter, but some new arrivals may be sent elsewhere.
Turning people away on cold nights is a concern – but so is overcrowding.
“We’re building systems that meet the needs of the community,” Johnson said, “but we want to do it in a way that provides a safe and comfortable place for anyone to sleep at night.”
Johnson said that before the COVID-19 pandemic, Housing Forward’s flagship program of emergency overnight housing, known as PADS, sheltered more than 600 residents a year. Guests would receive hot meals at local churches or gyms and sleep on foam pads.
“We’ve always recognized people experiencing homelessness are a continuum,” Johnson said. “There is always a place for shelter.”
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