DuPagePads’ new housing model offers a permanent path out of homelessness
By Maureen Callahan
For the last 35 years, many in this community remember assisting DuPagePads- formerly known by the acronym P.A.D.S.- Public Action to Deliver Shelter- in their church basements. Scout troops, youth groups and others, made up a cast of thousands of volunteers that cared for their neighbors’ most basic human needs.
From organizing supply drives, to making dinner, to setting out the actual pads for guests to sleep on, the organization has brought DuPage County residents in from the cold. And cared for them. And made them feel wanted and welcome.
But what happened in the morning?
In the former congregate model, people would arrive in the evening, use the shower, have dinner, and go to sleep. Most had nowhere to go after breakfast the next morning. Often, they spent the day trying to get to the next shelter, on public transportation, often with children in tow.
It’s impossible to build a life in that situation, let alone manage the stress and anxiety that accompany it.
The pandemic forced the hand of an overdue solution. Congregate shelters, deemed unsafe in March of 2020, were closed, leaving many homeless DuPage residents literally out in the cold. April Redzic, President & CEO of DuPagePads, was brand new to the organization at that moment. She assembled her team and took a hard look at the situation.
They decided to pivot the entire Pads shelter model from single nights at church locations to one of temporary residency. Their medical-respite location, a former Downers Grove hotel, became an interim-housing complex. The major change was one of the first under Redzik’s tenure.
DuPage is the first community in this state, and one of only three in the country, to utilize this residential prototype. “As we pioneer this model, I meet regularly with other shelter providers who are looking to set up a similar situation,” said Redzik. “The data shows how well this works for our clients, so while we’re the first, we certainly won’t be alone.”
So far, the new model has brought many positive changes. Data collected from residents who were surveyed showed a 75% decrease in mental and physical health incidents among clients, simply because people had a safe place to stay.
DuPagePads is now able to accommodate short-term, emergency housing situations, as well as several-month stays. Unlike the former congregate model, clients now have their own space, similar to an apartment complex.
“It’s amazing how life improves when people have a front door and shower of their own,” Redzic commented. “While the goal is to have clients and families stay in interim housing for as few days as possible, they are welcome to stay until a suitable housing alternative becomes available.”
The shift in the housing model has brought DuPagePads’ ultimate goal more clearly into the light-to help clients find a permanent way out of homelessness and into a new life.
Clients now have daytime hours to spend on resources to help better their situation. Time formerly spent moving to the next shelter during the day, is now freed up to spend with their case managers, social workers assigned to each client.
The Empowerment Center- a career and vocational service, offers clients access to the skills necessary to find employment. Plans are in the works for College of DuPage to partner with the organization to offer GED classes, as well as IT certification, job coaching, and interview prep. Onsite computers are available to aid clients with job searching.
From their interim-housing stop, DuPagePads works to connect clients with other options in the community for housing, whether that’s an apartment they are renting on their own after they’ve become employed, another housing provider in the community, or another social services program that will help them with their unique needs. Each client has their own situation, so case managers work to help them end their homelessness in the best way for their circumstances.
For Redzic, now in her third year at the helm of DuPagePads, ensuring shelter is a cause for which she has always had a particular passion. But it’s nothing new. Her mother led by example, encouraging Redzic as a child to bake cupcakes for a homeless shelter near Joliet, in hopes of making the guests smile. Her mother still works in a food bank. Caring for others is a quality tightly woven into the fabric of her family.
Clearly, it’s who she is.
Redzic began her career as the editor of Spirit, Catholic Charities’ donor magazine. She eventually worked up to the role of Director of Communications. During that time, she also helped found a literacy program at a homeless shelter in the city. She found herself at the crossroads of remaining in non-profit work and returning to school to pursue a Doctorate of English.
An unexpected detour presented itself one freezing cold Christmas morning as she watched two little boys squeal with joy while dodging ice banks in a shelter parking lot as they rode new scooters. They had just received their first-ever Christmas gifts.
“That was it for me,” Redzic smiled, as she recalled the scene. “That moment changed my life. Those little kids stole my heart.”
She earned a Master of Non-Profit Administration from Notre Dame. Her first few years in the field were spent at United Way, before moving on to Kids Above All, a Chicagoland non-profit based on child welfare and early education.
Her experience helped her hone the skills she uses daily to promote DuPagePads’ feeling of home. She sees each client as an individual with a unique set of circumstances. They’re everyday people, needing some temporary assistance as they overcome a stumbling block on their journey.
The nature of the organization is one which sees the full circle of life. Of their approximately 300 clients, about a hundred are children. Since DuPagePads acquired the property last March, six clients have welcomed new babies.
A client in their care is currently in stage four cancer. “We want him to feel cared for, while also having as much independence and dignity as possible,” Redzic feels. “Him being with us, versus being unsheltered, or living in a car, for example, is just so much better. I’m glad he’s here.”
A couple that came to DuPagePads last year were placed in supportive housing (subsidized housing for clients who have been homeless and meet eligibility requirements). They recently passed away, but it was with dignity, in their own space. While the community mourned them, they were also able to celebrate that their former clients were independent, with their own space, at the end of their lives.
While they’re there, every effort is made for clients to feel at home. A resource room, located onsite, is stocked with toiletries, clothing, food, and other sundries. A recent Mother’s Day brunch donated by several volunteer groups gave resident moms their first reason in a while to smile.
Designs with Dignity, a non-profit organization, is currently working to execute plans to make the former hotel rooms at the interim housing complex more family or roommate friendly.
“While folks are here with us, we want them to feel as welcome and comfortable as possible on their journey out of homelessness,” said Redzik. “People come with belongings and need space.” Updates to the property are ongoing, including repairing the exterior stucco, building an outdoor play area, and creating a pleasant garden space for clients to enjoy.
Every year, Taste of Hope, DuPagePads’ annual fundraiser, raises money for the organization’s current needs. Last year’s event raised the final dollars needed to purchase the hotel that has become the interim housing residence. This year’s proceeds will go toward the new kitchen, which is in the process of being built.
“I don’t think people appreciate the bravery it takes to walk into an unfamiliar space and tell strangers you have no home,” said Redzic, when asked to sum up her clearest observation thus far. “So often we have the head of a family walk in and tell us just that, for the sake of their children. It takes a ton of courage.” Come what may, DuPagePads will help. ■