Thursday January 18 08:31 AM EST
Churches tell Elgin to help with homeless or they'll quit
After four years of hosting the PADS homeless shelter, Elgin clergy said Wednesday it may be time to drop the program, throwing the gauntlet straight at a city one member said "used and abused" their hospitality.
Members of the Coalition of Elgin Religious Leaders said they were tired of the city's reluctance to fully support their quest for a permanent shelter, and their temporary facilities were woefully taxed during this winter hallmarked by tough cold and heavy snow.
"This thing's been like a hot potato passed all around," said Rev. Don Shank from Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, at Wednesday's quarterly coalition lunch. "As long as the churches continue to provide shelter the city will not do anything."
Elgin Mayor Ed Schock doubted this tactic would work and said he hoped the churches continued to sponsor the program through the season.
"This isn't going to move us toward their goal any faster," said Schock, who was not at the meeting. "My sense is their view is the city should just fund it all. That's not going to happen."
PADS is hoping its proposed facility will one day sit near routes 31 and 20 on land owned by the secretary of state's office.
The group recently made a formal offer on the six-acre piece of land, across from the Elgin Mental Health Center, but are still working on coming up with funds to pay for the land, the building and the substantial operating expenses tied with running a non-profit agencies.
Shank said it was time for Elgin's churches to "put ourselves out there on the line. It's time for the city to say this is our responsibility."
But dropping PADS is a prickly proposal for the group because there is no guarantee the city or another organization will step in. PADS currently shelters as many as 70 men, women and children a night during the winter months.
"If we do this now while the weather is bad, how many people are going to die before the city acts?" asked Cindy Lewis, member of Elgin's Baha'i community.
Mark Lund, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, said that there was difficulty finding a church to host PADS in February. PADS moves from church to church between October and April.
"We have only four congregations right now who have done this," he said. "That's an indication to me we're losing support. I'm ready to say to the city 'this is it.'"
Until 1997, PADS was housed in the Salvation Army's Douglas Street building. As PADS' client base grew and the Salvation Army's programs grew, the building could no longer accommodate both agencies. PADS started rotating between Elgin church basements between October and April, moving each month from church to church. This month, PADS is stationed at Holy Trinity Lutheran on Division Street.
A shaking tablecloth showed Emilio Garcia, executive director of PADS, was listening intently as he fidgeted under the table.
"My concern is still the people. I understand, but we should wait and see what's going to happen (with the State Street site)," he said.
The city currently gives the agency between $50,000 and $60,000, a similar amount to previous years, Schock said.
"What we haven't done is build a building and there are a lot of reasons for that," Schock said. "There is no point in proceeding with a building unless we know what we want to accomplish."
Several clergy vowed to take their proposition back to their congregants to gauge their opinion. The religious leaders group reconvenes in April.
"I'm of the opinion we don't make the threat if we don't carry it out," said Jim Renz, a member of PADS site location team. "As long as the city council can put their feet under our table and eat food off of it, they won't do anything."
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