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Local
Fortitude Outreach has found a home

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s homeless shelter program has found its home.

Fortitude Community Outreach, currently housed in the vacant St. Paul’s Lutheran School building in downtown Kankakee, is targeting an October 2022 move into its own, brand-new complex in the 100 block of North Washington Avenue.

The new shelter — which will have the capacity to house twice the amount of occupants nightly — will be known as “The Fort.”

The homeless shelter organization, headed by director Dawn Broers, is targeting an April 2022 groundbreaking of two vacant lots — 155 and 167-169 N. Washington Ave. — to construct a 5,500-square-foot homeless shelter.

The property is located directly north of CVS Pharmacy, 225 W. Court St. in Kankakee.

The shelter will remain on its current seasonal schedule at the planned new site for at least its first year. The hope is in the summer 2023 it can become a year-round facility.

Construction on the 36-bed, $550,000 structure is projected to be completed by late summer to early fall 2022, Broers said. The new complex will be able to house twice the number of homeless people as the St. Paul’s site.

The property had belonged to Bradley resident Jeff Saathoff for nearly the past six years. Saathoff had purchased the land at a tax auction, but ultimately did not do anything with the property.

The property, however, is located across the street from where Fortitude would help homeless people by distributing food and personal products.

‘I’M NO HERO’

When Saathoff learned Fortitude was considering developing its own location outside of Kankakee’s downtown core, he thought his property could be an option for them.

Saathoff and Broers talked in the spring. Once Fortitude was able up to clear liens against the property through the help of the city’s administration, the property became the possession of Fortitude.

Fortitude took ownership of the property on Thursday.

“I’m no hero here,” Saathoff stressed. “This was a win-win. It was good for me to be able to get rid of the property. It’s a load off my shoulders. Hopefully this works out for them.”

Fortitude began its program for helping the homeless in April 2018. It started by offering nightly shelter in January 2018 at rotating shelters in Kankakee, Bradley and Bourbonnais.

During its brief tenure, homeless shelters have closed at The Salvation Army and the late Pastor Ed Kannapel’s Gift of God shelter, 660 N. Fifth Ave., Kankakee.

About a year ago, Broers and the Fortitude board began looking for a place which it could call home. The organization’s steering committee began exploring options, but most were vacant, abandoned buildings.

Broers said the cost of rehabbing abandoned properties was going to be more costly than building new.

MONEY NEEDED

Broers said Fortitude has gained bank funding for $200,000 of the project. A capital fundraising campaign for the remaining $350,000 started Monday.

To donate to the “Washington Shelter Construction” capital campaign, visit app.donorview.com/jnn9Y.

Fortitude will host a pair of community informational meetings on Nov. 15 for those who have questions or would like more information. The first meeting will be held at noon and the second session is set for 5:30 p.m.

The proposed 36-bed site will feature an eight-bed area for women; eight private rooms for small families or those with special needs; and 20 beds for men.

The site will also feature a commercial kitchen, conference room/office space, large restroom/shower area, washing/dryer facility, and an enclosed back patio.

The location, inside and outside, will be monitored by security cameras, Broers noted.

“We are very excited, but it’s tempered with the amount of work we have in front of us,” she said.

Considering where the organization has come in a relatively short time frame, Broers admitted there is something of a “surreal” feeling about it.

“It gets more real as I see the renderings, the floor plans,” she said. “The community supports us and that means so much. I trust in the support the community will offer.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do and I’m very proud of the people of Kankakee County. I trust in the support the community will offer.”

She said by providing a safe, secure setting for those experiencing homelessness, it will inspire them to seek more for themselves on their own.

“We plan on being a positive addition to the neighborhood.”


Illinois
State delays new round of rental assistance

The application period for a new round of financial assistance to renters through the Illinois Housing Development Authority will be delayed one month as the application portal undergoes additional testing, although funding remains available through other state programs.

The latest round of funding, provided by the American Rescue Plan Act signed into law by President Joe Biden earlier this year, includes more than $250 million that IHDA said it expects will help 27,000 Illinois renters. The application window, which was scheduled to open Monday, will now be open from Dec. 6 to Jan. 9.

Amy Lee, a spokeswoman for IHDA, said the delay was due to the department’s efforts to switch to a new application portal for this round of funding.

The new portal was built to accommodate the rental assistance program as well as a yet-to-launch mortgage assistance program, Lee said, but testing conducted Friday night showed it would not likely be able to withstand heavy traffic.

Lee said the department made the decision to push off implementation for a month, rather than roll out the platform that could be subject to crashes or other technical issues.

She said IHDA was working with the vendor, New York-based web development company Unqork, to ensure the dual rental and mortgage platform would be up and running by Dec. 6. A representative for Unqork reached by Capitol News Illinois deferred questions to IHDA.

Despite the delay, rental assistance funding is still available through other state programs run by the Illinois Department of Human Services.

Renters may still be able to access assistance through an IDHS provider agency. A list of provider agencies, as well as organizations helping with utility bills, free legal aid and additional services can be found at illinoisrentalassistance.org.

The court-based program is available to Illinois residents outside of Cook County and applies to those with active eviction cases. Tenants hoping to access the funding can apply for up to 12 months of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent payments using their eviction court case number at ilrpp.ihda.org.

Lee said IHDA did not expect to begin distributing funding from the latest round of assistance until Dec. 13, and that date is unchanged with the latest delay in launching the platform.

“While this delays the date we’ll begin accepting applications, IHDA is committed to meeting the original timeline of disbursing rental assistance money to tenants and landlords in December,” IHDA Executive Director Kristin Faust said in a news release. “We recognize this postponement may cause concern for tenants facing eviction, but there is help for renters available now.”

Lee also said she did not have a date as to when the mortgage assistance program would be available, noting the state submitted its plan to the U.S. Treasury but has thus far not received final approval.

In the first round of the Illinois Rental Payment Program that launched in May, IHDA approved more than 57,000 applications and paid out nearly $540 million, bringing the total money disbursed to more than $776 million since the pandemic began.

To be eligible for rental assistance, a renter must live in Illinois and the rental property must be a primary residence, the household must have experienced a financial hardship due to the pandemic and have an unpaid rent balance, and a household’s income must be below 80 percent of the Area Median Income.


Illinois
Pritzker signs COVID-19 amendment to Illinois conscience law

Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday signed into law a change to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act that would allow those who refuse the employer-mandated COVID-19 vaccination to potentially face repercussions.

The law is at the heart of lawsuits filed by employees claiming they cannot be punished for refusing the shot because the law provides a conscience-based exemption. Some workers have even claimed exemptions from taking preventive steps such as wearing face coverings or testing for a coronavirus infection.

Among the lawsuits is one filed in Kankakee County by Chicago’s Liberty Justice Center, a national nonprofit law firm representing Riverside Healthcare employees seeking to continue working for the organization without becoming vaccinated as mandated. That lawsuit claims that Riverside’s rejection of religious exemption requests is a “violation of the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s executive order.”

Proponents of employer-mandated vaccinations have argued that the law is being misinterpreted, saying it was adopted in 1978 to protect physicians from penalty or discipline for refusing to perform abortions because of a religious or moral objection. Democratic Attorney General Kwame Raoul asked Pritzker to encourage legislation to make clear the law was not intended to cover a contagious and deadly pandemic.

“Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” said Pritzker, who thanked lawmakers for ensuring the law “is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”

Democrats stressed that religious exemptions still exist under federal law, although experts dispute the availability of such exceptions under three federal statutes Pritzker’s office cited.

Exemptions are being allowed under the Civil Rights Act around the country. Two key cases invoking the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise of Religion clause are proceeding in Maine and New York. Both could be headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I hope this provides clarity to the situation as we work to protect the public’s health and beat back this pandemic that has taken so much from us,” said Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat.

The law doesn’t take effect until June 1, 2022. Democrats wanted an immediate effective date but the state constitution requires more votes than they could garner in floor action. Republican critics claim that leaves the door open for more lawsuits. Another vote after Jan. 1 could make the law effective then because fewer votes would be needed.


Coronavirus-local
Boosters, child vaccinations available in Iroquois County

WATSEKA — The Iroquois County Public Health Department is now offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots, with Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna all available.

The department is also offering the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 through 11 years old, in addition to individuals age 12 and older.

Both booster and child vaccinations will be available by appointment from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Additionally, there will be a Pfizer vaccine clinic for children ages 5 through 11 from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 13, by appointment only.

The health department is located at 1001 E. Grant St. in Watseka.

Please note that individuals under the age of 18 must have a parent or guardian present at the time of vaccination. At this time, there is no cost for the COVID-19 vaccine.

To schedule an appointment for a booster or child vaccination, call 815-432-2483.

If you do not feel well the day of your appointment or are in isolation or quarantine, you are asked to not attend.

Patients will need to wear a face covering, practice social distancing, and plan to allow at least 15 minutes for observation after the vaccination.

Patients are asked to wear clothing to allow easy access to the upper portion of the arm for the injection and bring their COVID-19 vaccine card with them.

Iroquois County’s vaccination rate stands at 42.71 percent, according to ICPHD. Since Nov. 6, the county has recorded 4,374 cases of COVID-19 and 79 COVID-related deaths. It has recorded 56 new COVID cases this week.


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