From libraries and community centers, to shelters and village halls, warming centers have flung their doors wide-open this winter season in an effort to protect those most in need.
“The cold stretch we just had was brutal on everyone, but it’s obviously worst on individuals who don’t have a home,” said Ryan Dowd, executive director of Hesed House in Aurora.
Because of this, local cities, health departments and social service organizations are reaching out to Kane and Kendall Counties’ most vulnerable residents to keep them sheltered from the cold.
According to Dowd, the cold doesn’t just wreak havoc on Hesed House residents, but the shelter’s staff, as well.
“It makes it a heck of a lot harder when you have to keep your doors open 24/7,” Dowd said. “Everyone is cranky and has cabin fever. The staff gets stressed out, and we have to change our entire thought process.”
Generally, Hesed House’s focus is on getting people out of homelessness–providing resources, job training, and other services. During cold, winter months, that focus shifts.
“When it’s this cold, we just have to focus on what we can do to keep people alive,” Dowd said.
During the course of a typical winter, the number of homeless residents seeking shelter at Hesed House tends to drop.
Family members are more likely to offer homeless relatives a couch to sleep on and a place to stay as temperatures drop. This season, that is not the case, Dowd said.
“Our numbers are still pretty high, but we’re making it work,” he said.
In Kendall County, PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) volunteers are looking after those most in need.
PADS guests are provided overnight shelter, meals and good company from the months of October to April. Shelter services are available each night from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Seven churches in Kendall County serve as shelter sites, one for each night of the week.
More than 600 volunteers are needed to keep these rotating shelter locations open, a feat that requires community effort.
For those seeking a temporary, daytime reprieve from the cold, warming shelter locations are available at locations throughout both Kane and Kendall counties.
Many libraries, police departments and city hall buildings welcome residents looking for warmth.
“Our own health department is a warming center,” said RaeAnn VanGundy, operations administrator for the Kendall County Health Department. “We have people sitting in here in the lobby for most of the day. We are always a welcoming, warm place for anyone to stay.”
The department is also focused on making sure senior citizens are taken care of over the winter months.
VanGundy said many seniors on fixed incomes keep their heat down, or don’t have televisions to make them aware of extreme temperatures that are on the horizon.
“They’re just a more vulnerable population and extreme conditions make them even more vulnerable,” she said.
The health department is making sure to check on seniors they currently work with, but is also encouraging family members and neighbors to remain in contact with seniors in their circle.
Tom Schlueter, health communications coordinator for the Kane County Health Department echoed VanGrundy.
“Check on your neighbors. It’s always important,” Schlueter said. “If you know you have a senior next door, or someone with special needs, make sure you always check on them.”
And, as important as it is to check on those we already know, it’s equally as important to keep eyes on those who might have no one looking after them.
Dowd said he is often asked what people can do if they spot someone outside late at night, inappropriately dressed for the extreme cold.
“Call the police,” he said. “When the weather drops, officers are really good at prioritizing people’s safety. If (Hesed House) gets a call at 1 a.m. saying the cops are brining someone by, we open our doors for them.”
Kane County warming shelter sites:
Kendall County warming shelter sites:
Kendall County PADS: http://kendallcountypads.org
Hesed House: https://www.hesedhouse.org/
Kane County Health Department Tips: http://kanehealth.com/winter.html
—- Harsh winter conditions putting demand on social services —