Why don’t we see them?
In the first quarter, there were 406 documented homeless individuals in McHenry County. These are people who visit shelters, seek services or are living in transitional and permanent housing. These numbers do not include the many people in the county who are “couch surfing” (staying with friends/relatives) or those not seeking any assistance.
This is a shocking number, and, yet, many people believe we don’t have homeless in our county. Is it a case of out of sight, out of mind?
Many McHenry County churches and nonprofit agencies are becoming landlords and housing the homeless in emergency, permanent and/or transitional housing. While this might not be the specific mission of their agencies, it becomes a necessity because of the lack of affordable housing in the county for their clients.
Two HUD funding streams to the county support local organizations and public entities through grants awards. Providers to homeless families and individuals are supported directly and indirectly through the positive impacts these HUD programs have.
The county receives about $1.3 million a year in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and just under $500,000 through the HOME program. Projects funded through CDBG support a wide range of projects and services to benefit low- to moderate-income residents or geographic areas in the county with a high percentage of low- to moderate-income residents.
A good portion of CDBG is invested in large infrastructure projects, such as the ongoing Drinking Water Compliance project for the village of Union. Because the village had no other means to fund the critical improvements that needed to be made to its water system in order to provide safe drinking water for residents, the multiyear awards made through the CDBG program were vital in ensuring the village could come into compliance with EPA standards for safe drinking water.
Another project funded through CDBG contained improvements to PADS transitional housing units, which provide housing for homeless individuals and families for up to two years. Funds also have been awarded to the PADS day shelter, which provides an array of services to the homeless. CDBG also has funded the rehabilitation, expansion and services for transitional housing for agency clients; emergency shelter for women, children and victims of domestic violence; and emergency housing rehab for homeowners who have health and life safety issues that could force them into homelessness on a permanent or a temporary basis. Other projects have included funding the Northern Illinois Food Bank, Volunteer Transportation Program and Emergency Medication.
The county’s HOME program is a smaller grant but is leveraged with other funding (such as tax credits, a required match component, other grants and private donations) to provide affordable housing. These projects must remain affordable for a required number of years, depending on the amount of grant money received.
One recent example is the DKI Senior Housing in Lake in the Hills. The county invested $432,800 of HOME funds in The Residences of Lake in the Hills project, and, in return, supported an investment in the creation of 21 affordable rent apartments. These apartments are designated for seniors whose income is less than 60 percent of the area median income, with the apartments remaining affordable for 20 years. That’s a lot of bang for our buck.
The HOME program also has invested in the permanent supportive housing for Pioneer Center group homes. Recently, Home of the Sparrow received HOME funds to purchase and rehab scattered site rental units for its clients.
HOME funds also fund the Owner Occupied Rehab Program, through the McHenry County Housing Authority, which provides funding for repairs to homeowners whose homes have health and safety, as well as building code issues.
Without this funding, distressed homeowners might have been forced to leave their home. Many of these homeowners are seniors on fixed incomes who have kept up with the mortgage and taxes (a requirement for the funding) on their home but, because of rising costs of living, could not keep up with the necessary repairs.
There are 25 organizations that are members of the McHenry County Continuum of Care to End Homelessness. While the majority of the members are from nonprofit agencies and sectors of government, many other individuals and organizations participate. Some of the other members include religious organizations, Lake-McHenry regional education, private citizens and Crystal Lake Bank & Trust.
Only six of these organizations receive funding directing related to the Continuum. The other 19 organizations and individuals that participate do so as volunteers – often at the expense of their employers that recognize that homelessness is a community crisis. Maybe the reason you don’t see the homeless and their daily struggles is that a few are going above and beyond their cause.
The McHenry County Continuum to End Homelessness meets the second Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. at McHenry County Government Center-Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock, Conference Room C.
• Kim Ulbrich is a community development specialist for the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development.