Kadner: It’s a home for homeless and better than a shelter
Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-6787 September 4, 2012 10:42PM
Updated: October 6, 2012 1:48PM
Ald. Vincent Lockett (2nd) told me he doesn’t want a “public housing project” in Country Club Hills.
As we stood outside city hall, I reminded Lockett that he had enthusiastically attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Wellness Center of Country Club Hills in November.
“That’s when I thought it was going to be a homeless shelter for the people of this community,” Lockett said. “That’s not what this is.”
The Wellness Center is not a shelter, which by definition is temporary housing.
It is a permanent residence for the homeless, and that was precisely the goal of everyone who supported the effort back in November and for years prior to that.
The idea was to prevent people from wandering the streets during the winter when shelters provided only nightly housing.
So what is it that so upsets Lockett and some other Country Club Hills aldermen now that the apartment building is scheduled to open at the end of the month?
Lockett voiced concerns that an undesirable element will be coming into the community from other locations in Cook County, creating crime and placing a burden on city services.
But would a homeless shelter, that Lockett embraced, have created any less of a strain on community services?
Would it have been better for Country Club Hills to have transients wandering in and out of a homeless shelter?
I was at Country Club Hills City Hall on Saturday for a meeting between Mayor Dwight Welch, the city attorney, the South Suburban PADS board of directors and its executive director Mike Wasserberg.
In a previous column, I had mentioned that Welch wanted a meeting with PADS, which developed the Wellness Center, because of concerns he had about the apartment building.
He wanted questions answered that were raised by the city council, and because I had raised some of the same questions, he invited me to the meeting.
South Suburban PADS officials explained that every resident of the Wellness Center will undergo criminal background checks.
In addition, anyone with a history as a sexual predator would be excluded.
Wasserberg, to my surprise, said there would even be credit checks.
That seemed counterintuitive, as I figured anyone who was homeless would have a pretty bad credit rating.
In a follow-up phone call, Wasserberg said his organization doesn’t expect any tenant to have a credit score of 740, but there are differences in credit histories even among the homeless.
“Some people have a history of moving from one apartment building to another without ever paying a landlord rent,” Wasserberg said.
“But many people who become homeless had a long history of being responsible and paying their bills before financial disaster befell their families.
“We can determine who has a history of responsibility by doing a credit check and minimizing the risk.”
Tenants for the apartment complex will be selected, by federal law, from a Cook County Housing Authority waiting list.
Not everyone on that list would qualify as homeless. There are some very definitive criteria for who is homeless and several different categories of homelessness.
For example, Category 1 is defined as someone “who has a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not meant for human habitation.”
Category 4 is an individual or family “fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence; has no other residence; and lacks the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.”
South Suburban PADS had to extend its outreach to the homeless beyond the Southland when it accepted government funds to build and operate its 77-unit apartment complex.
Lockett said he thought the building would be funded through voluntary check-offs on water bills throughout the suburbs.
Well, the fact is PADS couldn’t raise nearly enough money through those volunteer checkoffs to run its supportive housing program.
And that program is designed to offer financial counseling and job training to tenants, programs for alcoholism and drug treatment and building maintenance.
The Wellness Center is designed to give people the time and tools to get their lives back together and move forward.
South Suburban PADS does have the ability to screen tenants for many of the apartments using its own criteria, which must conform to federal guidelines.
I think what has changed in Country Club Hills since November is that the political atmosphere has grown more tense.
Country Club Hills reached out to the homeless when no one else in the Southland would.
That should be a source of great community pride.