There has been a lot of talk lately about PADS and the people we serve. It started when PADS and the Lake County Housing Authority began efforts to partner on Midlothian Manor, a residential facility in unincorporated Ela Township. There was a small group of people who responded negatively to this concept – they felt that the project was inappropriate for their neighborhood. There were also some who responded with genuine concerns, and were willing to work with us to allay those. Unfortunately, others responded with scorn and anger. That causes a great deal of sadness among those of us who know this population, and who know the quality of people they are.
The proposed program for Midlothian Manor began when the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), along with advocates for the homeless across the country, identified that persons with longer terms of homelessness caused by a disability were less likely to succeed in a traditional shelter system. The barriers they faced were more complex and, at times, almost insurmountable. The traditional way to serve them was ineffective.
As a result, HUD provided funding for what they referred to as “safe haven” programs. As HUD defined it, a “safe haven” was a program that put persons with a disability and a longer term of homelessness directly into housing – not into shelter. This “housing first” model would ensure stability, safety, and free up space in the shelter system for those that needed it and could benefit from it.
PADS responded to this call and created a “safe haven” program in 2005. We used a building we leased from the Lovell Federal Healthcare Center. Although the building was located on this campus, the services provided to them were only provided by PADS staff; the hospital did not provide any services beyond what qualified veterans may seek through the regular processes.
We have successfully operated this program to this day. Men and women who would otherwise linger in shelter, or perhaps even the streets, now had a place to call home – some for the first time in their adult lives.
As we have sought a new home for these residents, we wanted the place individuals called home to feel more like home. This placement in residential facilities instead of institutional-like facilities is consistent with best practices across the country. Additionally, local zoning laws throughout the nation want people living in residential areas – that’s where homes ought to be. And that's what this project is - a home.
It is disheartening, to say the least, that a group of individuals have decided that this program is not appropriate for their neighborhood without having all the facts. What’s more frustrating is that they have not made an effort to obtain the facts. While PADS and its partners have held informational meetings, set up mechanisms to solicit feedback, and other things, select individuals have made no effort to contact us and learn about the program and services. In fact, attempts to communicate with them have either been ignored or rebuffed.
As a result, some have gone about spreading misinformation regarding PADS programs and the people we serve. Correcting all the incorrect information will take a long time, but we’re in it for the long haul. We owe it to the people we serve, who count on us to advocate for them. We have to be their voice in situations like this. We must make people understand the facts and the truth. We may not be able to teach empathy. But we can teach the facts.