Fortitude shelter hopes for downtown home

Dawn Broers, center, executive director of Fortitude Community Outreach, stands with board members at the entrance to the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School, the potential site for a permanent, 7-days-a-week homeless shelter in downtown Kankakee. Fortitude currently operates a PADS program at five rotating shelters five nights a week from mid fall to late spring.

KANKAKEE — The Kankakee City Council decided downtown Kankakee was not the best location for a seven-night-a-week homeless shelter.

By an overwhelming 12-2 vote on Monday, Kankakee aldermen rejected the conditional use permit sought by Fortitude Community Outreach. The failure to get the permit means the shelter program will continue to operate its revolving-location PADS shelter program five nights a week beginning Nov. 1.

The shelter program normally begins Oct. 1, but due largely to the work put into this potential move, director Dawn Broers said the project will begin Nov. 1. The revolving shelter program, Broers said, is expected to operate six nights a week this season.

While there appeared to be ample support within the community for establishing a permanent shelter at the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School property, 240 S. Dearborn Ave., a property which has been largely unused for many years, city council members appeared unified that this location was not the place to establish this shelter.

Broers was disappointed after the meeting, but said she had braced herself for this outcome.

“I’m devastated. I think I’m mostly disappointed in human beings,” she said. “The needs and the wants of the council and certain groups were considered the most and the needs and the wants of the homeless were considered the least.”

She said the program will begin preparing for its rotating shelter program today.

“We are resilient,” she said.

The shelter would have been in operation from 6:30 p.m. until 7 a.m. daily if it had been approved. It would have housed no more than 18-20 people on any given night, Fortitude officials had stated.

Most council members spoke in favor of the work completed by Fortitude and its volunteer staff, but said downtown Kankakee was simply not the place to locate a shelter.

The only council members who voted in favor of the permit were Tyler Tall Sr., D-5, and Jim Faford, R-4. Faford attempted to put some stipulations on the project in terms of strict record-keeping as to who was staying at the shelter each night and gaining detailed police data for crimes committed in the downtown area.

That amendment was also rejected.

Prior to the vote, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong read nearly two dozen letters into the record during the public comment portion of the meeting. Due to COVID-19, Monday’s meeting was held remotely, meaning it was conducted through video conferencing, and comments were required to be submitted in advance.

One council member, Ald. Fred Tetter, D-7, suggested the program should be placed in a residential area. He said there are vacant homes which could be used.

Ald. Stacy Gall, D-2, who represents the area where the shelter had been targeted, noted she could not support the project in the downtown.

“We are finally seeing our downtown grow. We’ve come from a low place. We have a way to go before the downtown can take something like this on,” she said.

Gall’s 2nd Ward seat mate, Ald. Mike O’Brien, agreed. He said part of a council members’ job is to project what may be best for long-term growth. He stated he could not support this site as a shelter.

Broers said what frustrates her so much is that those involved with the homeless, those who have training to deal with the homeless, their opinions are not recognized.

“We are the experts in homelessness. We presented to them what was a perfect situation and they are pretending to be the experts. An abandoned home in the middle of a neighborhood is not the answer,” she said.

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