Pioneer Center, the city of McHenry and a McHenry church are coordinating efforts to expand services for the county’s homeless population.
The McHenry Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to consider a plan for a 24/7 emergency shelter and service center at The Chapel’s property, 1809 Route 31, at its Sept. 19 meeting.
The proposed site could offer between 60 and 70 beds along with services such as showers, meals, lockers, mail service, laundry and phone assistance. Transportation and resource referrals also will be offered. Social service providers will be invited to offer on-site assistance, as well, according to city documents.
The need for such a site has been discussed for years, but officials have recently begun taking action toward making the shelter a reality.
Pioneer Center operates an emergency shelter and day services at its Kishwaukee Valley Road site, but the center only can house 34 individuals nightly. In the winter months, local churches traditionally have offered temporary night shelters that serve
40 to 60 people, Pioneer Center Co-CEO Sam Tenuto said.
“The church model isn’t the best stabilizing system because they rotate from church site to church site,” he said. “If you are trying to move out of homelessness … it doesn’t help if you have to pack up your belongings and move every single day.”
The proposed shelter will occupy about 6,000 square feet of The Chapel’s building, with room for beds, a kitchen, laundry room, showers, and office space for caseworkers and other staff, according to city documents.
Startup costs will be a minimum of $300,000 in building costs, with annual operating expenses estimated at more than $800,000, Pioneer Center Co-CEO Frank Samuel said.
“We will have more volunteers and support from [the Old Firehouse Assistance Center],” Samuel said. “That should reduce some costs.”
The Old Firehouse Assistance Center, run by the McHenry County Housing Authority, is in downtown Woodstock and employs two case managers, who could begin to offer services at the proposed Providing Advocacy, Dignity and Shelter site in McHenry instead, Samuel said.
The fixed-site shelter discussion was propelled to action following ongoing controversy in Woodstock. Residents have aimed criticism at the homeless community and the assistance center and say the center is in the wrong location.
As part of the fixed-site plan, the Old Firehouse Assistance Center could act as a service provider in the new shelter. Officials have said the center is expected to close once a new site is operational.
McHenry Economic Development Director Doug Martin said he thought the McHenry location was ideal and didn’t foresee any adverse impact.
“You have some really quality partners here,” he said. “It’s on a major state route. It’s less than ¼ mile from hundreds of employers. It’s walking distance from Pioneer Center. There is a health care facility ¼ mile up the road. Pace has routes up and down Route 31. It makes for a very beneficial site.”
The goal is to get the site up and running by October 2019 at the latest, Tenuto said. Funding could pose a problem and a fundraising campaign is upcoming, he said.
“As we get this in for city approval and lock things down in place, we will need to go back to the community to have annual, sustainable dollars,” Tenuto said. “It’s a community initiative. We need the community support.”