Kadner: Witness the miracle birth of a homeless shelter
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 August 24, 2012 10:36PM
Mike Wasserberg, executive director of South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter)
Updated: September 27, 2012 11:19AM
Mike Wasserberg looks happy but weary, as any parent would who had gone through labor for 30 years to give birth to a massive 77-unit apartment building.
This will be a permanent shelter for the homeless, a place where they can live in peace, take a shower, receive medical care, learn a new trade and maybe get a shot at starting a new life.
For three decades Wasserberg has led South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), which has given homeless people an opportunity to sleep on bed pads laid out on church floors during the winter months.
These temporary shelters throughout the Southland were safe havens where people could get some temporary respite in freezing weather, and that’s a very good thing.
But during the day, the homeless were largely forced to fend for themselves in the Southland, carrying their belongings in grocery bags, in carts or in their arms as they stayed at public libraries, fast-food restaurants or their cars until some authority figure told them to “move along.”
For many that is going to change this year, possibly as soon as next month, when South Suburban PADS opens the Wellness Center of Country Club Hills.
Wasserberg led me on a guided tour of the structure last week, as construction crews worked frantically all around us, trying to complete their task in time for a planned Sept. 25 grand opening.
The shelter is a 90,000-square-foot facility just south of 167th Street and about two blocks west of Pulaski Road.
It is five stories high and includes a culinary kitchen where residents can learn trades that will help them acquire jobs in the food service industry. There are 20 two-bedroom apartments for families with children, and 34 one-bedroom and 23 studio apartments in a separate wing for adults.
Each apartment has an oven and a refrigerator. There’s a laundry room on every floor.
“We have some furniture we can distribute, but many of our residents will have belongings they’ve stored with a relative that they might want to bring with them and we want people to feel this is their home,” Wasserberg said.
“So we’re going to try to figure out what’s needed as we go along and our residents come here to live.”
He expects to reach out to faith-based communities to help with things like plates, knives, forks, pots, pans and all the other stuff that’s needed for everyday living “but can cost a lot of money when you add it up.”
In fact, Wasserberg welcomes the community to visit the shelter and hopes to open the doors of its meeting rooms to those who would like to make use of them.
“We’re part of the neighborhood,” Wasserberg said. “If a new neighbor moves in and never says, ‘hello,’ never invites you into their home, you become suspicious. Anxieties grow.
“We want to be part of the community. We want to be good neighbors.”
For better than two decades Wasserberg had tried to find a site for a permanent homeless shelter in the Southland, but just about every municipality turned its back.
Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch, a target of a great deal of criticism in recent years, deserves credit for telling PADS his community would welcome the homeless.
The building cost an estimated $19 million, according to Wasserberg, and its continuing operation will be funded in large part by federal grants, which have caused some critics to contend it is a public housing project. Some state grants are also being sought.
I asked Wasserberg why he chose federal rent subsidies instead of help from local municipalities through voluntary donations on water bills.
“Over 10 years we raised $500,000 from the water check-offs, and that simply isn’t enough money to fund the services we’re going to offer, maintain the building, subsidize rents and do all of the other things it’s going to cost to keep this place operating,” he said.
There will a computer laboratory, health clinic and offices for PADS and other community service organizations in the building because this is a holistic approach to treating the problems of the homeless.
Sure, you can look at this newborn and see flaws. PADS temporary shelters and volunteers will continue to be needed because there aren’t enough rooms to accommodate all the homeless, and some won’t want to meet the bureaucratic demands required to live in the apartment building.
You can look into the future and see all manner of potential threats and problems.
But there is also the gift of hope, that comes with the birth of every newborn thing.
I prefer to see that.
And to think of the homeless people who will now get to shower each day and sleep in their own bed each night.