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Like a good neighbor, PADS is there for those in need

Jack Nystrom Waukegan PADS shelter North Chicago. Nystrom was homeless PADS was his home he now volunteers shelter. | Thomas

Jack Nystrom of Waukegan at the PADS shelter in North Chicago. Nystrom was homeless and PADS was his home and he now volunteers at the shelter. | Thomas Delany Jr.~ Sun-Times Media

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A Help Them to Hope recipient agency, it is moving forward despite a blow this year due to the sudden death of Executive Director Cathy Curran.

“We’re all mourning Cathy’s loss, but she left a tremendous legacy and vision,” said Sari Rubin, PADS director of development. “The board and staff are committed to helping realize that vision.”

PADS Lake County will continue to pursue more permanent supportive housing options. Before her death, Curran was working on such housing for single women without children.

“That’s a huge gap in Lake County,” Rubin said.

PADS is also a lead partner in a medical advocacy program, begun in 2011, which assesses client medical needs and connects them with basic health care. Under the program, clients have received TB and flu vaccines, pediatric and prenatal services and treatment for chronic diabetes.

The agency, which has offered emergency shelter since 1987, has served nearly 2,000 individuals over the past year. It will hold its first, annual SleepOut for Shelter on May 11 at Carmel High School in Mundelein.


3001 Green Bay Road, Bldg. 5

North Chicago

(847) 689-4357

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Updated: January 4, 2013 6:11AM

U.S. Army veteran Jack Nystrom lives in a cozy, affordable apartment in Waukegan. But not so very long ago, he was homeless.

For more than five years, PADS Lake County was his home-base, the place where, October through April, he climbed aboard an old bus and rode to an overnight shelter, a hot meal and the kindness of strangers.

“PADS kept me going,” said Nystrom, 60, who was downsized out of a job as a machinist and lost his home to foreclosure. “It was great compared to where I could have been, in the gutter or out on the street.”

Jobs in food service weren’t paying enough to make rent and then Nystrom began to suffer a series of maladies — arthritis, heart, neurological and respiratory problems. He sought treatment at the VA in North Chicago, where he was sent to the nearby PADS headquarters because he had no money for a hotel.

Nystrom, who walks with a cane, now returns to PADS to volunteer several days a week via a circuit breaker transit pass. The number of veterans served by PADS in 2012 grew by 54 percent over the previous year. PADS, which also operates three year-round shelters, housing about 63 men, women and children, has also seen a dramatic increase in clients with mental illness, a trend PADS Director of Development Sari Rubin said is a direct result of state budget cuts that “leave people abandoned, with nowhere to go.”

“There are all kinds of reasons to be here,” said Nystrom, who recalls with near nostalgia the basement shelter in Libertyville where fried chicken was a dinner staple and a church in Indian Creek “where we sat down at a table like a fancy restaurant and the kids came around and served you.”

Nystrom attended Triton College in River Grove and is a voracious reader. He voted in the presidential election and has strong opinions on “entitlement” reform.

“We need the social safety net,” said Nystrom, who relies on a veteran’s housing program and disability pension. “Without it, there’d be dead bodies in the street, starving people, frozen people.”

“There are all kinds of reasons” people come to PADS, Nystrom said. “They’re dysfunctional, they can’t articulate, they can’t cope. We’re not all drunks and lazy people.”

During the years Nystrom relied on PADS for shelter during the cold season, he often slept outside during the warmer months, when PADS’ 15 overnight shelters close.

“My favorite summer, I had a spot at Foss Park, by the lake, in the pavilion,” Nystrom recalled. “It had a roof, a water supply and a place I could plug in my radio. I slept on a picnic table. There was a grill to cook on.”

His second night in the spot, police swarmed in. “They had me spread-eagle,” Nystrom said. “When they saw I was a homeless vet, they let me camp out there.”

Nystrom wants to do some real camping, he said, maybe at Illinois Beach State Park. He shows off one of his prized possessions, a baseball cap he found for 20 cents at a thrift store. “Life is good,” is declares in small lettering on the visor. The front of the cap shows a mutt roasting marshmallows over a campfire.

“I’m just glad to be alive,” Nystrom said. “I’m taking it one day at a time.”

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