GENEVA – Joe Jackson, the managing director at Hesed House in Aurora – the largest homeless shelter in Kane County and the second largest in Illinois – made an impassioned plea to be included in the Kane County’s distribution of the $92.9 million in federal COVID-19 aid.
Speaking Monday at the Kane Coronavirus CARES Act Allocation Committee meeting, Jackson said a warehouse converted into a temporary shelter would need $500,000 in winterizing and other work in order to get through the winter.
But to house homeless individuals beyond the winter would require extensive renovation at an estimated cost of $7.5 to $10 million to create safe distanced sleeping, kitchen and dining areas and permanent bathroom and shower facilities, Jackson said.
“In response to the pandemic and the greater social distancing that came with it … COVID-19 has crippled Hesed House’s ability to serve the most vulnerable residents in the greater Aurora community,” Jackson said.
He told the committee that county and city officials assessed that Hesed House’s main shelter building at 659 S. River St., “is no longer a viable option to serve the on average the 250 men, women and children that stay there on a nightly basis.”
A maximum of 54 people can be housed there now, due to social distancing, he said.
To get them through the summer, they set up a temporary makeshift shelter in a warehouse at 680 S. River St. across the street, but it can only serve 137 people, Jackson said.
The emphasis is on the word “temporary,” as it is only viable for 57 days.
The building needs to be winterized, its roof replaced, a heating, ventilating and air conditioning system to be installed, a portable heated shower trailers need to be brought in for it to continue to serve homeless individuals and families through the winter, Jackson said.
“If nothing is done between now and Sept. 22, when we are no longer be able to house people temporarily at 680 S. River St., after those 57 days, over 135 men, women and children will be living and sleeping on the streets,” Jackson said. “We will find them under bridges. You will find them in parks, outside of public buildings … they will be all over.”
Jackson said not supporting Hesed House would be catastrophic for the finances of Kane County and the city of Aurora, as well as for the lives at risk.
“Without shelter, it is next to impossible to pull yourself out of homelessness,” Jackson said. “Shelter brings stability and shelter brings hope. … Those numbers, as daunting as they are, are not nearly as daunting the problem of homelessness that we currently face. I assure you, it will only get worse as the economic downturn we face continues to grow.”
Committee considers options, policy
In wide-ranging discussion covering several topics over 3 1/2 hours, committee members talked about how to allocate grants to nonprofits and businesses.
The issue was whether to reduce those funds from what is considered for municipalities or to take those funds from what is being retained for county needs.
Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn said he did not want to make small businesses wait for relief.
“There’s people making decisions, worrying themselves to death right now, about whether they’re going to keep their business alive or not,” Frasz said. “We need to get it (the funds) out there.”
“How much is appropriate to set aside?” Committee chairman John Hoscheit, R-St. Charles asked. “I don’t want to say that this is a recommendation, this is a placeholder in this discussion. I think Lake County had grants of up to $30,000 … I believe that’s 330 grants. If a $15,000 limit, that’s twice that many. ”
Hoscheit asked how much would they allocate for nonprofits and how much for business grants.
“And if we do that, what share does it come out of?” Hoscheit asked. “Those are all policy decisions the committee needs to make.”
Support for non-profits
Board member Matthew Hanson, D-Aurora, said it was appropriate to set money aside now while the committee vets requests from municipalities and internally from the county.
“A healthy business in Sugar Grove means just as much to the treasurer’s office and our tax rolls as a business in Aurora or Algonquin or anywhere else,” Hanson said.
“It’s not only for the tax rolls, but it’s for employment, too,” Hanson said. “I believe that money should come out of the county’s share – not only for business needs … as well as the not-for-profit should come from the county’s share. People that have hunger insecurity issues, people who are homeless or I should say have shelter issues, they don’t know boundaries. And that’s a regional problem. That’s a county-wide problem. And I believe that we should share our county-wide piece for those causes.”
“I agree with Mr. Hanson,” said Board member Angela Thomas, D-Aurora.
Hoscheit recommended the committee members digest the issues and come back to next week’s meeting with a solid recommendation for the full county board.
The county divided up the $92.9 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds with 55% going to the county for its needs and 45% to be granted to municipalities for their needs.
The committee did agree on an application for municipalities and associated documents, such as an intergovernmental agreement, and to fund an administer for the process.