Longstanding Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) volunteer Michelle Bratton of Woodridge says she has joked with some of the shelter’s guests that “she hopes she never sees them again” on their way out in the morning.
Although, approximately 75 percent of the clients Bratton encounters are “typically very short-term,” over the years she has forged relationships with some.
Bratton admits, “There is a kind of fear of homeless people — it is an unknown for a lot of people. But you realize that they are really not that different from us. It is really eye opening.”
Calling her fellow volunteers some of her “closest friends,” Bratton said she first began volunteering more than a decade ago, signing up through her church to bring dinner to homeless individuals through DuPage PADS.
Bringing in the groceries, Bratton remembers, “They were shorthanded in the kitchen and I got drafted.”
Today, Bratton serves as the DuPage PADS volunteer coordinator for Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, one of 29 sites that make up DuPage PADS.
Each summer, Trinity Lutheran provides interim housing on Thursday nights.
Throughout the rest of the year, Trinity Church volunteers provide staff and meals at two other churches in Naperville.
It takes anywhere from 30 to 40 people to coordinate a shelter site each night, Bratton added.
“We break down the list of food so that no one is spending more than $10 or $20, she said. “We need about 20 to 25 volunteers to work the different shifts” for one night of shelter service.
Over the last year, the more than 4,000 volunteers of DuPage PADS have served nearly 1,400 individuals — including 265 children and 58 veterans.
From October to April, DuPage PADS averages about 160 beds every night at three of the PADS rotating sites.
Carol Simler, president and CEO of DuPage PADS, said that number is an increase of about 20 percent overall and a 54 percent increase in the number of homeless children.
“That breaks my heart,” she added. “It is traumatizing to be homeless, but no child should ever be homeless.”
“People who are homeless are isolated in our community,” Simler said. “There are quite a few stereotypes about the homeless. But, the people we work with have real names and real stories of how they got to this point in their lives.”
“Our goal is to find a place for these individuals to call home and integrate them back into the community,” she said.
DuPage PADS has relied on the county’s churches to provide volunteer support and physical space for the interim housing.
It also has 127 supportive housing units that are provided to homeless individuals who have been homeless for longer than one year.
However, the need for additional volunteers and shelter locations exist.
“People are not going to church as they used to and congregations are aging out,” Simler explained.
This reduction has impacted DuPage PADS’ volunteer pool.
“The whole area of volunteering is changing as well,” she added. “People will say, I can volunteer tonight, but we need regular volunteers.”
Volunteers donate about three or four hours once a month.
Simler explained some volunteers buy and prepare meals, and others work one of three different shifts throughout the night.
Simler said DuPage PADS is looking to broaden the service groups that volunteer for its organization.
Calling the homeless in DuPage County a “hidden population,” Simler said she recently participated in a series of meetings aimed at creating affordable housing throughout the county.
“Right away, people think, oh here come the homeless,” she added. “But we are talking about seniors, people in the workforce. That is a challenge in this county.”
Affordable housing also is a concern in nearby Kendall County.
“It is very difficult for anyone working an hourly job to even afford an apartment,” according to Kendall County PADS Executive Director Anne Engelhardt.
She explained that an individual making minimum wage would have to work 96 hours a week to afford an apartment in Kendall County.
As one of approximately 600 unpaid volunteers with Kendall County PADS, Engelhardt said, “We run entirely on donations, grants, and volunteers.”
The Kendall County PADS program runs six months from mid-October to mid-April from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. rotating between seven local churches. Volunteering requires a monthly commitment of four and a half hours,” she added.
Each night, the shelter has room for about 20 guests, she added, “We have been averaging about seven to eight a night so far this year. That number will go up as the weather gets colder.”
The volunteers that come in the middle of the night often bring books to read, phones, computers, play table games or cards, and even some bring work, she added.
“Some volunteers like the quiet time in the night,” Engelhardt said.
Other volunteers take different shifts or prepare meals.
“We encourage our cooks and other volunteers to eat supper with our guests and visit with them,” she said. “Every volunteer is critical to our organization running.”
Engelhardt said Kendall County PADS currently is in need for about 30 volunteers to help with second and third shifts that run from 10:45 p.m. to 3 a.m. and from 2:45 a.m. to 7:45 a.m.
For the first time, 16- and 17-year-olds can be volunteers, if they sign up with a parent, Engelhardt added. “It gives them an opportunity to learn about homelessness, and also to earn volunteer hours.”
For this holiday season, PADS is looking for fleece blankets, gas cards, or financial donations, she added, “to help our guests get from the different shelter locations and to their job — if they are employed.
Engelhardt explained the PADS locations are spread out and Kendall County “doesn’t have an elaborate system of public transportation.”
“Homelessness is very complex. A lot goes into each individual’s story about why he or she is homeless, and no two stories are alike,” she said.
Suburban PADS organizations
Three PADS shelter sites are available during the winter and two in the summer from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in churches around the county. For more information on DuPage PADS including how to volunteer visit https://dupagepads.org/
PADS of Elgin
PADS of Elgin provides a day shelter from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and an overnight shelter every day from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Visit https://www.padsofelgin.org/about-us/ for more information.
Kendall County PADS
PADS shelter sites will be available through Friday, April 18, 2020 from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. at seven churches in Kendall County. For more information on PADS shelter sites and how to volunteer visit http://kendallcountypads.org/
Lake County PADS
The Lake County PADS operates a day center and overnight shelters from October until April. Individuals experiencing homelessness are transported by bus from the PADS Day Resource Center to the various shelter sites each night. For more information visit https://www.padslakecounty.org/
McHenry PADS operates a shelter from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It also operates a day center for all individuals experiencing homelessness. For more information including on how to volunteer and other support services visit https://www.pioneercenter.org/
Journeys The Road Home PADs shelter program provides a day center Monday through Friday 7:30a.m. to 4 p.m. and shelter from October to April 30. For more information visit https://www.journeystheroadhome.org/