PADS Lake County opens 26th season as ‘last stop’ for the homeless
By Judy Masterson email@example.com | @JudyReport October 2, 2013 7:54PM
Men who need a place to sleep arrive at PADS Lake County shelter site, Wesley Free Methodist Church in Waukegan.| Judy Masterson/Sun-Times Media
Find out more
For a complete list of PADS Lake County overnight shelters, visit padslakecounty.org; visit PADS, 3001 Green Bay Road, Building 5, North Chicago; or call (847) 689-4357.
Updated: November 4, 2013 12:10PM
Pledge Williams, paroled last summer from a state penitentiary, wants to know: “What if you have your own pillow?”
The 44-year-old Williams, a recovering heroin addict, is standing with 19 other mostly middle-aged, shaggy men in a church hallway, listening to the rules at a PADS overnight shelter: no smoking, no drinking, flush often — the latter because, as one PADS veteran yells, “the pipes go up instead a down.”
Williams, who is relieved to hear “That’s fine” in answer to his query, wheels a large black suitcase down the basement stairs at Wesley Free Methodist Church, 3601 Lewis Ave., Waukegan. Instead of rushing to a dinner of pizza and salad like most of the men, he claims his sleeping pad for the night and unpacks; sets out tomorrow’s shoes, sorts through a few toiletries, rearranges old but neatly balled-up socks.
He had been staying with his mother.
“But she could of lost her place,” said Williams, who has been locked up six times since 2001, five times for possession, one time for theft.
“I can’t blame no one but myself for being here,” Williams says as he zips his dusty bag. “I made my bed. I got to lie in it.”
Oct. 1 begins the homeless shelter season in Lake County. Since 1987, Non-profit PADS Lake County, aided by community volunteers, has been laying down thin mattresses on the floors of church basement and cooking hot meals in service to the addict, the wanderer, the ex-convict, the mentally ill and increasingly, unemployed, bankrupt and foreclosed-upon men, women and children.
Fifty-two people arrived at the program’s two shelters on what was a warmish Tuesday night. The number may signal another PADS record, according to Sandy Stephens, director of operations and services.
“That’s high for the first night,” Stephens said. “We used to open only one shelter, and maybe get eight. Last year we had 15.”
PADS shelters are open every night through April 1. During the other five months of the year, the homeless make their own arrangements − squat on the couches of friends and relatives, sleep drunk under bridges, or like Cody L., 23, who grew up in a Lake County suburb, use a government check to rent a room.
“If you end up here,” Cody said, “it means you don’t have other support or you don’t feel safe in that support.”
Wesley Free is the longest-serving PADS site in the overnight shelter program.
“The guys love Wesley,” said Gerry Romero, who drives the big blue PADS bus that transports the homeless from PADS headquarters on the campus of the Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago.
First night volunteers arrived from Christ Church, Lake Forest, which also provides dinner, breakfast and sack lunches. Members of Girl Scout Troop 41189 out of Winthrop Harbor also gave their time. Men can take showers at Wesley, get medical check-ups, pick up prescriptions, play checkers, play the small upright piano in the dining hall.
During one recent season, Wesley site manager Margaret Buffin, who has brought her two sons to PADS since they were babies, helped save a man’s life. Discovered cold, “dead,” Buffin said, lying on his pad, she began chest compressions. Emergency arrived, the man was revived and was soon reunited with his family, found a job and an apartment.
“Sometimes I leave here and I could sit in my car and cry,” Buffin said. “PADS is not just giving people a place to sleep or food in their belly. It’s about connecting with human beings.”
PADS Lake County served 1,934 people in the 2012-2013 season, which proved a tumultuous time for the agency, beginning with the sudden death of longtime Director Cathy Curran and the subsequent hiring of new Director Joel Wllliams. Last summer, PADS’ Family Center, a year-round shelter, moved from a former church building on Waukegan’s Southside to an apartment building in Gurnee. A PADS shelter for veterans also moved from that location to a house in North Chicago. And by summer 2014, the agency hopes to move its headquarters from the grounds of FHCC, which wants to use the property to better serve veterans, Williams said.
PADS, according to Williams, will continue to focus on meeting emergency housing needs, but also helping the homeless find permanent housing.
“So many people have so many different barriers to housing, whether its stabilizing medication or getting (criminal) records expunged,” Williams said. We are the last stop. That’s the role we try to play.”
Williams, the former coordinator of Lake County’s Continuum of Care program, said he sees homelessness “trending upward.”
“There have been a lot of cuts to preventative services,” Williams said. “Cuts to state mental health care and housing subsidies. That population is going to start coming to us. The economy has not gotten any better. Finding employment continues to be a challenge and without income, housing is almost a dream.”