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Bivona: Homelessness doesn't discriminate

Published: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 5:54 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 5:54 p.m. CDT

Every year about this time, the weather begins to turn colder, and the number of people using the services of McHenry County PADS, a program of Pioneer Center for Human Services, rises.

In fact, Census numbers show that up to 500 people rely on the program’s services annually.

These individuals come from all walks of life and don’t fit the old-fashioned notion of the homeless bum sleeping on a park bench. More often than not, they are families with children, veterans or young adults – the vast majority of these having been thrust into homelessness by a life-altering event that was unexpected and unplanned for.

Job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, a family dispute or sudden illness are among the top-ranking causes of homelessness. Depression, untreated mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical disabilities also are often found to contribute to the loss of a home and security.

For families that can hardly pay their bills, a serious illness or disabling accident might exhaust their savings and push them out onto the street.

The Illinois Self-Sufficiency Standard shows that it takes a family of three (adult, preschooler and school-aged child) $59,908 annually to make ends meet. Today, the rapid, unexpected loss of jobs makes it nearly impossible for the average McHenry County family to meet this minimum. This limitation and the resulting home foreclosures cause great dislocation among families and has dramatically added to the number of people seeking help from McHenry County PADS, a McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness committee member that participates in advocating for federal funding to fight homelessness.

Over the past five years, in McHenry County, the poverty rate nearly doubled, with more than 7,000 people labeled as living in extreme poverty. In McHenry County, the poverty threshold for a family of three is $17,916. This would mean that more than 7,000 people try to make ends meet on only $8,958 a year. For these residents, an “everyday” life issue, such as a broken-down car, can be the final factor in placing them on the street.

Since 2009, McHenry County PADS has seen:

• A 48 percent overall increase in individuals served.

• A 56 percent increase in the number of children as part of a family.

• A 15 percent increase in veterans served.

• A 52 percent increase in adult women seeking assistance.

• A 15 percent increase in homelessness among the Hispanic community.

By moving away from old-fashioned stereotypes about homelessness and acknowledging its true causes, McHenry County PADS works to provide resources and tools for people to navigate their way out of homelessness.

Through the program’s day services center and transitional housing, an individual’s immediate needs for food, shelter and medication are met. But, more importantly, their need for case management; counseling; child care; transportation; and linkage to other resources and training in areas including budgeting, goal planning, job training, time management, anger management, parenting, assertiveness training and nutrition are met. All with the goal of helping people regain employment and return to mainstream lives.

Unfortunately, each year, McHenry County PADS faces the same struggling economy and financial problems that many community members face. The program costs more than $800,000 to operate annually. Of this amount, more than $475,000 must be raised through community events and donations.

If you would like to learn more about how to use McHenry County PADS services, call 815-338-5231 or visit www.pioneercenter.org. If you would like to learn how to help sustain this vital program, call 815-344-1230.

• Laurie Bivona is director of marketing for Pioneer Center for Human Services.

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