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The Kendall County PADS program will remain shut down over the winter months because of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
For the past decade, the PADS program has provided emergency meals and overnight stays to the homeless community during the colder winter months from October to April.
In a news release issued Monday, Sept. 14, Anne Engelhardt, executive director of the nonprofit support group, said anyone needing food and shelter in Kendall County should call the Daybreak Center in Joliet at 815-722-4633 or visit their website, catholiccharitiesjoliet.org/daybreak-center/.
“Because we are deeply concerned about the well-being of the homeless men, women and children who will be seeking shelter and meals, we wanted to make sure we would have a place for referral,” she stated. “We are grateful for the partnership with Daybreak.”
Since 2010, PADS has been providing nutritious meals and safe, temporary housing at seven makeshift shelters throughout the county. And since 2015, social work interns from Aurora University have conducted case management to assist guests with finding employment, overcoming personal issues and securing permanent housing.
The shelter sites, housed at six area churches and a Christian academy, were shut down March 15 as the pandemic began to emerge.
Social workers met with homeless guests to help them find alternative temporary housing and stayed in touch with them fort he next four weeks via texts and phone calls.
Before the sites were prematurely closed, Kendall County PADS was on pace to serve a near-record number of guests, Engelhardt said. During the 2019-20 shelter season, the total number was 54 men, women and children. Overall, there were 1,391 overnight stays and 4,173 meals served.
“The highest priority of PADS organization is to protect the health and safety of the many volunteers and homeless people who would be at the shelter sites this fall and winter,” Engelhardt said.
She added that the organization’s board of directors engaged in a dialogue to make the difficult call to to remain shut down, citing public health considerations such as:
• The PADS temporary overnight shelter program takes place indoors and would quickly exceed the recommended number of people in a designated space.
• Social distancing would have been nearly impossible for guests who typically dine together and sleep in common areas.
• There would have been a need for hard-to-obtain personal protective equipment, including masks and disposable gloves for volunteers and guests.
• Guests and volunteers would have had to undergo temperature checks and fill out extensive daily questionnaires, in addition to being quarantined if a COVID-19 case was identified.
• There were challenges of sanitization before, during and after each of the seven shelter sites were occupied, as well as reconfiguring the areas available for serving food, eating and sleeping.
• A significant number of PADS leadership staff and volunteers are at high risk for contracting the coronavirus.
• Officials at three of the sites were unable to commit to providing safe shelter for the overnight program at this time.
•Although many volunteers expressed their desire to participate in this shelter season, which was scheduled to open Oct. 21,they also were concerned about potential exposure to the virus.
Each year, the homeless support group needed more than 500 volunteers, some of whom served only once or twice a month, to staff the seven shelter sites working four-hour shifts.
“We thank the selfless giving of our volunteers during the past 10 years,” Engelhardt said. “We hope that many of our furloughed volunteers, as well as many new volunteers, will come forward to serve the homeless in PADS when we reopen.”
That reopening will not likely occur, however, until a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine has been widely administered to the public, she said. “We will reach out to past volunteers and to the wider community for volunteers to assist Kendall County PADS when the program continues its mission.”
Kendall County PADS is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) group funded by donations from grants, gifts,individuals, organizations and businesses. Those interested in helping the local homeless community may call 630-334-8180 or visit kendallcountypads.org.
“The coronavirus has exposed disparities in our social system and the necessity to address the needs of the most-struggling people in our communities,” Engelhardt said. “More people are losing their jobs and living on the edge. With increasing unemployment, more people will likely become homeless.
“Offering overnight shelter is only one part of the complexity of homelessness."