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Woodstock, McHenry County agencies propose fixed-site homeless shelter

Plans in early stages

WOODSTOCK – The Pioneer Center for Human Services is looking to expand, and Woodstock and McHenry County officials are discussing the possibility of an overnight homeless shelter in the county.

The discussion stems from a series of meetings Woodstock held last year after residents began voicing concerns about the behavior of some people in the homeless community. Discussions led to the city working with multiple McHenry County agencies to tackle the lack of resources, and Pioneer Center now wants to open a second emergency shelter.

The complaints last year largely were aimed at Woodstock’s Old Firehouse Assistance Center, which serves people who are homeless by offering meals, social and medical services.

The center also provides mental health and substance abuse screenings and gives people a place to stay during the day. Seasonal overnight housing is available through the McHenry County PADS program, which merges with Pioneer Center.

Woodstock has been working with agencies such as the McHenry County Housing Authority, Pioneer Center, PADS, McHenry County Council of Governments, McHenry County Chiefs of Police Association and other interested parties to start moving toward a permanent, fixed-site center, according to a statement from Woodstock Mayor Brian Sager.

But based on initial projections, the effort could prove costly, and it could be dependent on site specifications, Sager said.

“A pro forma financial statement was developed with an estimated $1 million property acquisition and $800,000 initial facility development cost,” Sager said, “along with a $2 million annual operating budget for facility management, maintenance and the provision of associated social services.”

The search is ongoing, and agencies are meeting weekly to discuss potential next steps.

Pioneer Center officials also have a proposal in the works to expand their overnight emergency shelter.

The nonprofit operates a 32-bed emergency shelter in Woodstock and wants to open a new 48-bed facility, Pioneer Center co-CEO Sam Tenuto said.

“We don’t meet the community capacity in full throughout the year, and that is a priority,” he said. “We value what we do, and we would like to do more.”

But the plans can’t come to fruition without community and financial support.

“The next step is we are hoping to set up two committees – one to figure out how we get funding for this, and then the other is going to review budget, details and operating plans,” Tenuto said.

The Heartland Realtor Organization is scouting possible locations for a shelter site, whatever form it may take, Sager said.

“If it heads in that direction [to create the 48-bed emergency shelter], then we would be giving them a few more specs,” Sager said. “We are all talking about a rather aggressive timeline. We would like to have a facility up and operational in 2018, but while that is a goal, it’s not a guarantee.”

Members of Woodstock’s Cultural and Social Awareness Commission discussed the matter at a recent meeting, and they said they want to be involved in discussion with the community.

“I try to do my best when I meet with people to be that voice as much as possible,” committee chairman Bill Donato said. “If there is anything else we can do, we will do it.”

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