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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

An Elgin church will soon open their doors for winter shelter, but local leaders say housing issues are much larger


Temperatures stay relatively mild during the day this week while at night they are expected to drop to the upper 30s. Soon a church in northern Illinois will provide some relief for those seeking temporary shelter.

Folks make their way into the fellowship hall at First United Methodist Church in Elgin for a hot meal.

Among them is Christopher. While everyone takes their seat in anticipation for dinner, he’s thinking about his upcoming medical appointment.

“Tomorrow will be my second treatment of chemo,” he said.

He said he’s been diagnosed with stage three cancer in his lymph nodes and small intestines.

“I told the nurse point blank - ’I'm gonna fight. I'm not giving up.’”

“My aunt died of a brain tumor that was cancer,”’ and like I said, ‘I don't give up easy,’” Christopher recalled.

This is one of several challenges that Christopher has faced since being out of prison the past few years.

“I'm more institutionalized than I am out here now,” he said.

He works on managing his emotions, and he said his friends motivate him to avoid conflict.
Christopher said he’s unhoused since briefly staying with his brother.

After his meal, Christopher will spend the rest of the evening at a nearby library until closing time.

Jeff Benchley is one of the church volunteers for the weekly dinners. He said there are no conditions that folks have to meet to receive food.

“We don't register anybody,” he said. “We don't do breathalyzers. There's nothing. You come in as long as you behave yourself. You're gracious. And yeah, anybody can eat.”

Benchley said most of the people they serve at the kitchen are not experiencing homelessness, but for those who are, like Christopher, the church will soon be an option for temporary shelter.

Previously, beginning in November, the church only opened their doors for shelter if the temperature dropped 15 degrees or lower.

But now, from December until March, regardless of the temperature, the church will provide shelter.

The Elgin City Council approved funding in October for the extended period.

The church’s senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Felicia Howell LaBoy, said the space fills a great need since Greater PADS of Elgin, which is the main shelter in town, is often at capacity.

She recalled reaching out to them to inquire about shelter last winter at a time when it was very cold but hadn’t reached 15 degrees.

“And they told me that they had 49 people on a waiting list, including five families,” Howell LaBoy said.

She said last year, they served from 50 to 60 people a night.

Alan Walters, a church trustee, said they don’t turn anyone away from receiving emergency shelter at the church.

"PADS has expectations for you, when you go there that you're moving forward in life, and they're going to help you do that,” Walters said. “And we just don't want people to die in cold weather. Yeah, we asked no questions.”

Winter emergency shelter will provide some relief to Jason. He said battling the cold is the hardest part about living on the street.

“We have a chance for frostbite on a daily basis,” Jason said. “Now, why should the average person that is struggling, go through frostbite?”

He said he’s tried to sleep at a public facility like a parking garage but has been kicked out by the police.

Jason said it’s been difficult maintaining a job and he has been in and out of jail over the last twenty years.

And so, he’s thankful for the support churches in the city provide him.

“I'd love that they do this for us, “Jason said. “Without them. I wouldn't have the minimum needs to survive.”

And Jason’s challenges aren’t unique to him.

According to the Prison Policy Institute formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to face homelessness than the general public.

But the bigger challenge formerly incarcerated people face, the report finds, is housing insecurity.

Church leader Rev. Howell LaBoy said finding housing is also a citywide issue.

She puts the problem of obtaining permanent housing in Elgin this way: “It's easier for someone to get into Harvard than it is to get affordable housing here.”

City leaders estimate the housing vacancy rate in the Greater Elgin area to be less than two percent.

In Springfield, state legislators earmarked more than$350 million dollars for fiscal year 2024 aimed at eliminating homelessness.

But some housing advocates say that more funding ought to be dedicated to the construction of new housing units instead of services such as case management and rental assistance.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.