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Churches reframe outreach to the homeless

Posted: March 28 2020 at 10:19 AM
Author: Diane Strzelecki, Communications Specialist


When the DuPage Public Action to Deliver Shelter (PADS) organization announced the closure of all interim (overnight) shelter locations beginning Saturday, March 21, George Groves was saddened. Groves, a member of Naperville: Community UMC was scheduled for the 9 pm – 1 am Sunday shift. For Groves—and for many area UMC churches—the coronavirus pandemic has upended a long-standing ministry to the community. 

Citing concern for the health and safety of clients, volunteers and congregations, DuPage PADS noted on their website that the decision to close was not taken lightly. “We have taken these deliberate measures in accordance with directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the DuPage County Health Department,” the statement noted. Medical experts note that the virus spreads quicker among groups of people, leaving many older volunteers and homeless people especially vulnerable. 

However, many NIC churches are responding rapidly to meet the needs of the homeless population and the organizations that advocate for them. At the time of this writing, Downers Grove: First was compiling a response to the closing of their PADS site. according to Associate Pastor Rev. Anna Voinovich. She notes the church will begin collecting donations of supplies, toiletries, and non-perishable food for the DuPage Pads Emergency Response Relief Fund.

The Rev. Claude King, Senior Pastor at Downers Grove: First, said the church’s response was a coordinated effort between the Finance Committee, their Mission Justice and Community Committee and their local PADS volunteer leadership 

“The needs of our PADS clients—whom we refer to as guests when they stay with us—have intensified at this time, as well as those newly homeless people that have joined those unfortunate ranks due to the ‘flattening-the-curve’ measures put into place over the past two or more weeks,” King said. 

On Monday, March 23, Journeys/The Road Home notified Kingswood UMC (KUMC) in Buffalo Grove that it would be shutting down the church as a PADS site and transition their clients to hotels. JOURNEYS/The Road Home is a non-profit agency that provides shelter, social services and housing to the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless in north/northwest suburban Cook County’s north and northwest suburbs. The agency consists of the PADS Shelter Program, the HOPE Center Supportive Services Program, and the Pathways Housing Readiness Program.

KUMC has been a PADS site since 1990, housing an average of 35 persons each night. “We normally have individuals and families—sometimes we have up to 6-8 children here with their families,” said the Rev. James Preston, KUMC Lead Pastor. “The gift is that we can house children with their families in our classrooms.”

The church quickly formulated a response to the closure. On March 24, KUMC trustees voted unanimously to provide a $5,000 grant for Northwest Suburban PADS to begin to house persons in hotels in an effort to contain the spread among the homeless population. 

Preston noted that a few other churches including First UMC in Arlington Heights, as well as the brothers of Saint Viator in Arlington Heights, made similar donations in support of re-housing PADS clients. 

In accordance with Governor Pritzer’s stay-at-home order and the directive of NIC Bishop Sally Dyck, Epworth UMC in Chicago has shuttered its building to community use and worship services. However, the men's overnight shelter in the church’s gymnasium still serves their homeless clients. 

The shelter is a partnership with Cornerstone Community Outreach (CCO) and serves 65 single men every night. CCO staff and manage the shelter. 

“These are ‘residents’ who’ve ‘lived’ there two to three years,” said Senior Pastor Donald Guest. “All the men leave in the morning for CCO’s Crossroads Center, where they eat breakfast, then go to work. They return to the Center for dinner then to our shelter at night.”

Epworth UMC hosts four meals a year for shelter residents where the congregation and residents eat together and experience fellowship, but Guest said that upcoming meals will be suspended until the stay-at-home order is lifted.

The closure of the Downers Grove: First PADS site saddens King. “Yes, we’re doing it for good reasons and measures but there is a void there without physical contact with our homeless population,” he says. “They should be the focus as to how we move forward. In helping others—and in serving God by helping others, we become healed.”

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