Kadner: Home for the homeless opens doors
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org September 25, 2012 4:30PM
Housing Coordinator Regina Stevens walks through a one bedroom unit after the grand opening ceremonies at the Country Club Hills Wellness Center in Country Club Hills, Illinois, Tuesday, September 25, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media
Updated: October 27, 2012 6:14AM
“People have to be willing to stand up, so some people will have a place to lie down.”
Those words spoken Tuesday at the grand opening of the Country Club Hills Wellness Center sum up a 20-year campaign to create housing for the homeless in the Southland.
The 77-unit apartment building near 168th Street and Pulaski Road will be open for public viewing from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
“We expect our first tenants by the end of the month,” said Michael Wasserberg, executive director of South Suburban PADS, which will operate the center and is currently screening potential tenants.
The building will provide permanent, supportive housing for some families and others who previously had been forced to wander the streets or find temporary shelter in local churches during the winter, where they slept on pads placed on floors.
“This is splendid!” shouted the Rev. Henry Roberts, president of South Suburban PADS, in opening remarks at the Wellness Center.
More than 150 people took a tour of the facility after a ribbon cutting that included Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Country Club Hills Mayor Dwight Welch.
The building includes two wings, one with 20 two-bedroom apartments for families with children and the other with 34 one-bedroom and 23 studio apartments.
All apartments include new Energy Star appliances, air conditioning, Internet access and window treatments.
Many of the apartments will be furnished.
The $15 million building also has a professional kitchen that will house a culinary vocational training program.
There is a computer lab, classroom space, a large meeting room, a conference room, a playground for children and a place to grow a vegetable and herb garden.
Each floor has a community library equipped with a TV.
For nearly two decades, South Suburban PADS had been attempting to find a suburb willing to host such a facility for the homeless, but only when Welch stepped up to say, “My community will do it,” and donated the land did the organization’s dream become a reality.
Welch, who was present for the grand opening and received an award for his leadership, told me he had grown frustrated with the buck passing he had seen among suburbs in the Southland.
“I was raised by a mother and father who taught me when you start something, you finish it,” Welch said, explaining that he had chaired a housing committee formed by the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association that had made it a priority nearly two decades earlier to create housing for the homeless.
Wasserberg said Welch named the building the “Wellness Center” because he envisioned one day creating a campus that would include a health clinic and other support services, “a wellness center” to help people put their lives back together again.
Welch said he placed the apartment building near the future site of a 454-acre outlet mall so “people who need jobs would be near the places that have jobs.”
South Suburban PADS will provide a case management team for every tenant and provide employment training, resume development, financial literacy classes, referrals for substance abuse and mental health needs.
Several other south suburban social service agencies, such as Together We Cope, will also have space in the apartment building and offer supportive services.
The Rev. Patrick Shebeck, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Chicago Heights, blessed the Wellness Center.
“We do not know what stories will come through these doors or what fears will be brought here,” he said. “We do not know the hopes that will manifest here or the good deeds that will give us glimpses of divine grace.
“And though we come from many backgrounds, we share a common purpose: to honor the dignity of each person.”
Some of the people who came to the event, such as Janis Church, 79, of Orland Park, expressed some disappointment.
“I thought we were going to create a shelter to house all the homeless who have slept at (temporary) PADS shelters,” said Church, who over the years has volunteered at several of the faith-based PADS shelters.
Those shelters will have to remain open, manned by volunteers, to assist those who are not capable of socializing, or choose not to, with others in a community setting.
In addition, there are many people who are homeless only for a few days and eventually find a friend or relative with whom to live.
The fact is that while this is the first large-scale housing for the homeless in the south suburbs, it still isn’t large enough to accommodate all who need help.
But it’s a beginning that has the potential to alter lives.
It wouldn’t have happened without the stubborn persistence of Wasserberg or Welch’s maverick nature.
Perhaps goodness can transform the world around us, as Rev. Shebeck said.
But some people believe in lighting a candle while others curse the darkness.
On Tuesday in Country Club Hills, folks who had stood up for the homeless gathered in a building created so less fortunate people could rebuild their lives.
It was indeed a grand opening.