by Barry Dredze
Village Plan Commissioners sent a unanimous recommendation to the Village Board of Trustees for approval of a special use permit for St. John the Baptist Church to establish a temporary homeless shelter in Sebahar Hall.
St. John the Baptist Church seeks to operate the temporary homeless shelter one night per week on Mondays, beginning June 1 through August 28, while the regular summer homeless shelter at St. Isadore Church in Bloomingdale is closed for reconstruction.
Trustees have previously expressed a unanimous consensus for expediting the special use permitting process and waving the required fees and deposit at the regular Village Board meeting on March 15. The Plan Commission recommendation will be discussed in the Committee of the Whole at the regular Village Board meeting on Thursday, April 19.
If approved, St. John would serve as the substitute shelter on Monday nights and the ministry itself would staff one of those Mondays per month under contract with DuPage Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) of Wheaton, who would provide their case managers onsite. Other church groups including St. Isadore, St. Matthew and St. Walter would provide a staff of 18-20 over the remaining Monday nights per month, laying out bed pads, serving dinner and breakfast, making sack lunches and providing overnight supervision. PADS case officers are on call 24 hours.
Approximately thirty people filled the Board room at Village Hall for the public hearing during the regular meeting of the Village Plan Commission on Wedensday, April 4. Four testimonies opposed granting the permit to operate the shelter among the 14 people who provided comments on the record before a court reporter.
Winfield Public Library Director Matt Suddarth stated concerns about the Library’s regular summer reading program for which Monday nights are its busiest times. Homeless shelter clients may tend to hang out at the library before shelter opens, Suddarth said. Janitorial and security burdens could be intensified, Suddarth said, adding that the Library Board was scheduled to formally discuss the issue until its regular meeting on Wednesday April 11.
“We met with the Library Board,” PADS Executive Director Carol Simler said this week, “and received a favorable response.”
St. John Elementary School begins summer break on June 1 and students return to class on August 20, leaving two Mondays overlapping the use of Sebahar Hall as the substitute shelter.
“We have been out already to St. John’s Elementary and Winfield Elementary,” St. John Parish Council Member Richard Loechl said.
During public comments, St. John Elementary School Principal Catherine Koss said that the school administration was sensitive to the families of its 262 students. “What I heard was all positive,” Koss said.
Only screened clients with PADS identification cards would be allowed shelter and clients are limited to DuPage residents, based on last address. Preliminary bed capacity is estimated at 60-70, Loechl said. But an official Winfield Fire Protection District capacity has not yet been determined. A bed lottery is used if the number of clients exceeds capacity. Families with children are given first priority.
PADS maintains partnerships with probation and parole boards, PADS Director of Programs Beth Epstein said. Any shelter clients with criminal records are screened and stored by probation officers and parole boards for PADS and no one is approved with violent or sexual offenses.
Responding to questions raised about reasonable suspicions of inviting a homeless population into the community, Winfield Police Chief Stacy Reever said that the shelter could provide the Village with an opportunity to step up as a community to help with a major social problem.
Renee Ryan and Connie Harris of the Lightheart Center on Church Street in Winfield expressed support for the shelter. The Lightheart Center was in a position to offer services, Harris said.
“The key here is patience, tolerance and love of fellow man,” Loechl said. “The homeless are people, just not fortunate enough for now to have shelter on their own.”