McCaleb: Pioneer Center close to opening new homeless shelter in McHenry

Dan McCaleb
Dan McCaleb

It’s the beginning of November. Temperatures are dropping. Winter is coming.

That means a whole lot of stress and potentially life-threatening conditions for a portion of McHenry County’s population – the homeless.

Pioneer Center for Human Services through its PADS program operates a day and emergency night shelter off Kishwaukee Valley Road in Woodstock.

The Pioneer/PADS shelter is the only one in the county open to the entire homeless community. It serves men, women and children.

Unfortunately, our space is only big enough to provide beds to 34 individuals on any given night.

The need in the county is larger than that.

During the seven coldest months of the year (October through April), Pioneer partners with local church communities and their congregations that generously open their doors during evening and overnight hours to host the dozens of homeless we unfortunately don’t have space for at our Woodstock site.

Although the churches and the wonderful volunteers they provide have been a vital part of PADS’ homeless services for decades, it’s an imperfect solution.

But with the community’s continued financial support, beginning early next year, the emergency church shelters no longer will be needed.

With the support of the McHenry County Board, the McHenry County Mental Health Board and other community stakeholders, Pioneer Center in October sold its small, aging shelter in Woodstock.

Proceeds from the sale helped the center eliminate debt on the Kishwaukee property and will help the agency pay for some renovations at a new shelter planned for opening in February.

The generous parishioners of The Chapel in McHenry donated space to Pioneer Center for a 70-bed, fully functional shelter that will allow us to serve our clients at a single location 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But Pioneer Center still needs some financial help.

To date, Pioneer Center has raised about $900,000 to pay for bathrooms, a kitchen and other necessary renovations at The Chapel site.

The agency needs to raise about $300,000 more to finance the rest of the project.

Pioneer Center also needs to raise funds annually to operate the shelter.

The state and federal government provide very little funding for PADS homeless services.

More than 80% must be raised from the community.

Thanks to the generous support of the Community Foundation for McHenry County, United Way of McHenry County, the Mental Health Board and other generous individuals, we have closed our operational gap to about $100,000 annually.

PADS is not a long-term home for the chronically homeless.

Its staff helps people get back on their feet.  

Sam Tenuto, co-CEO of Pioneer Center, said, “Our compassion to serve drives our focus on positive outcomes.”

In fiscal 2019, 145 of the 220 local residents who used PADS services left the program to a more positive outcome.

That’s a 66% success rate, which is quite an accomplishment for a struggling population.

Also this fiscal year, PADS has served 25 homeless adults ages 18 to 23, as well as 11 families with 25 children.

“We are seeing an influx of families with children over the past year, and more on the waitlist for a bed,” said Carrie Freund, PADS director of homeless services. “The opening of the year-round site will greatly help with the needs of these families and others experiencing homelessness because we will have the ability to shelter up to 70 people on any given night.”

This is an exciting time for the community, to be able to close a decades-long gap in human services coverage in the county.

Please help open and operate the new shelter by donating to the McHenry County Pads Emergency Shelter program at

• Dan McCaleb of Crystal Lake is chairman of the Pioneer Center for Human Services board and serves on the United Way board of directors.

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