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New South Suburban PADS director thinking big

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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:06AM



Having spent a little more than two months working as the executive of director of South Suburban PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter), Geraldine Palmer already has some big ideas with which to move forward.

Palmer, of Evanston, was hired in late August to take over the Chicago Heights-based social service agency. She replaces longtime executive director Mike Wasserburg, who headed PADS for about 20 years and left in January.

In her new role, Palmer said she wants to expand the charity’s permanent housing by acquiring subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to move about 15 to 25 homeless families into off-site housing.

Palmer also said she wants South Suburban PADS to move into the arenas of advocacy and housing policy in order to change how funding is disbursed at the state and federal levels.

“I think that with the voices we have, the collective voices we have, we should be doing much more informing and shaping public policy,” Palmer said.

After all, Palmer said, the need for housing for the homeless in the south suburbs is more dire than ever due to the poverty plaguing the region. She said the homeless population is particularly underserved in the south suburbs due to the decline in manufacturing coupled with the number of Chicago residents who moved to the Southland following the demolition of several Chicago housing projects.

“When that happens, you don’t have the resources to match the number of people living in one community,” Palmer said. “If the demand outnumbers the supply at any point in time, of course you will have a glitch in the system.”

Palmer has a proven track record of providing housing for the homeless. For the past four years, she worked as the Northside Housing and Supportive Services executive director. Working in the role, she increased the budget from $650,000 to $2 million before leaving for PADS.

When she started, the agency offered permanent support for 44 people, and by the time she left, the organization provided permanent housing for 200 people and interim housing to another 100.

Palmer is deeply connected with the Southland, having grown up in Robbins. She has one brother and two sisters, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom and her father worked as an Amtrak conductor.

She graduated from Eisenhower High School in 1972 and went on to earn her undergraduate degree from Kendall College in Chicago, her master’s degree in human services from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership and her doctorate in community psychology from National Louis University.

Palmer stayed in the south suburbs until moving in 1994 to Evanston, where she now serves on the housing and homelessness commission.

Despite her residence, she said her family still owns the plot of land in Robbins where she grew up, although her childhood home has been demolished. The land is at 135th Street and Monticello Avenue, in the footprint of the proposed controversial Robbins redevelopment that calls for the excavation of a quarry and underground mine.

“I think it’s a travesty,” Palmer said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to give up land like that. Land is precious and a valuable resource.”

With her new job, Palmer said, she is considering a move back to the south suburbs.

“It definitely has crossed my mind,” Palmer said. “I seem to be doing a lot of work and these things seem to be no coincidence. The issues and challenges that are here seem to align with my years of experience and work.”



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