PADS Lake County, the primary emergency shelter serving Lake County, has been providing critical services for 50 years to people experiencing homelessness. The agency started simply as a hotline and has grown to offer a variety of programs with shelter being their main role in the community. For many individuals and families in a housing crisis, PADS is their first point of contact. The agency is often referred to as the “front door to the homeless services system.”

For decades, PADS Lake County provided shelter using a rotating church model, with beds and cots set up at different houses of worship on different nights of the week. This approach was upended in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit.

“Pre-pandemic, we would put seventy, eighty, ninety people in churches on a given night,” said Interim Executive Director Eric Foote. “When the pandemic hit, the churches shut down. They were gone for a couple of years and then we brought them back last season to a limited degree. We brought them back to an even greater degree this season. It’s been an awful lot for the agency to bear, but for the people with nowhere to stay, it’s been a blessing.”

Eric Foote, Interim Executive Director of PADS Lake County

In addition to churches, emergency federal funding through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act allowed PADS to provide shelter in local hotel rooms. Unfortunately, that funding is time-limited and already starting to dwindle. As they look to the future, PADS Lake County hopes to open a fixed site shelter where all their services could be headquartered.

This new facility would provide spaces for clients to meet with case managers with privacy and dignity, areas for food preparation, and spaces for children to learn and play safely. Having services under one roof will also cut down on travel from one location to another, a barrier and source of stress for many clients, especially in Lake County where public transportation is not widely available.

Places that help people that are experiencing homelessness are relying more and more on resource-intensive options like hotels,” Eric explained. “I think hotels are a great option; it’s wonderful to provide a more humane shelter opportunity for people. As necessary and helpful as the churches and their volunteers are, a hotel provides a lot of advantages a church cannot. In the church setting, people are routinely uprooted. Every six to twelve hours they’ve got to pack up and go somewhere else. Their situation is constantly shifting. It’s difficult to manage all that and when you add complicating factors like mental illness or substance use or a physical disability you’ve created an exceptionally challenging situation. It’s difficult to get your feet under you in that circumstance and hotels eliminate a lot of those concerns.

“However, hotels are also expensive to rent and do have some drawbacks, which is why we are focused on developing a fixed site shelter that PADS Lake County owns—a building that is dedicated to helping people in their most critical hour with a focus on helping them return quickly to a permanent housing solution.”

During the recently completed General Assembly, Eric participated in multiple meetings with Housing Action Illinois and his state legislators to talk about the need for increased funding to provide the amount and quality of shelter that best serves people experiencing homelessness in Lake County. “I really appreciate the energy from Housing Action Illinois and others that was put into talking to lawmakers and getting extra money from the state to maintain hotel programs and build things that are more permanent,” he said.

Foote also shared that 70–80% of PADS Lake County’s clientele in any given year are new to the shelter system, rather than people experiencing chronic homelessness. “People hit a scrape: they get kicked out, they have an eviction, or whatever it is that causes them to be homeless. They visit us. We catch them. We make sure they’ve at least got a roof and some food and then a helping hand to return to a housing option.”

Emergency shelter isn’t the only thing that PADS Lake County provides. Through their Day Resource Center, PADS provides an orientation to their shelter services, hygiene products, emergency food supplies, and case management. In the building PADS also has a diversion and prevention program to help individuals stay in their homes so they never need to enter the shelter system and, should they arrive, the agency has a small healthcare team to help with clients that have complicating medical factors.

Additionally, the agency provides outreach to people experiencing homelessness in the community and operates a supportive housing program serving twenty-five clients through a Housing First model. Housing First prioritizes access to permanent housing without any readiness requirements; the approach is client-centered, with respect for each person’s autonomy, is oriented towards recovery, provides individualized support services, and involves social and community integration.

Foote said that PADS is also hoping to recruit more volunteers, post-pandemic. “We’re seeing the same things a lot of other agencies are seeing—the volunteers have dropped off.” From supply drives and fundraising to making simple website updates or helping with meals, they have a wide range of volunteer opportunities available. You can find more information at the volunteer page on their website.