KANKAKEE — Fortitude Community Outreach will begin operating its nightly homeless shelter program on Wednesday.
The program, under the direction of its executive director Dawn Broers, received its final site OK when the Kankakee City Council, after about an hour of hearing concerns and support for the program, approved the conditional use permit.
By a 9-4 vote, the council approved the permit needed to operate a shelter within a residentially-zoned district. The approval allows Fortitude to operate a shelter inside Immanuel Baptist Church, 1300 W. Hawkins St., Kankakee, in the city’s west side 3rd Ward
Fortitude now has six sites to offer nightly shelter seven days per week from Oct. 1 through the end of April.
Four of the sites will be in Kankakee, and Bradley and Bourbonnais will each have one site.
In addition to the Immanuel Baptist site, the program also will use: First Church of the Nazarene, 1000 N. Entrance Ave., Kankakee; Resurrection Community Church of the Nazarene, 425 E. Court St., Kankakee; River Valley Christian Church, 800 N. 2000E Road, Bourbonnais (within Bradley); and Central Christian Church, 310 Main St. NW, Bourbonnais.
Broers said a fourth church in Kankakee will be announced this week.
The shelters will be operated from 6:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. Those taking advantage of the shelter will be fed dinner and breakfast. Food will be provided through donations.
Each church will offer shelter one night per week. However, First Church of the Nazarene will offer shelter twice per week — Wednesday and Friday. Immanuel Baptist, Saturday; Resurrection Community, Monday; River Valley, Thursday; and Central Christian, Tuesday.
The yet named sixth church will offer shelter on Sunday.
Broers said the public comment prior to the council vote did not shock her. She said she expected a battle.
“People have been kicking this can down the road for a long time,” she said of homeless shelters. “That can be hard to stop.
“I understand people’s concerns. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the homeless. You get a very different perspective when you get to know them as human beings.”
About 20 people, largely evenly split, spoke about the Immanuel Baptist shelter. The two other named Kankakee shelters were approved by the city council in November.
Most residents who opposed the shelter explained they chiefly objected to the speed at which this matter had moved. They said Fortitude only raised this program in October and it is now in place.
Those speaking for the shelters said the need for religious organizations to get involved has been requested for years. Now that local churches have stepped forward to help, the council was attempting to stop it.
Third Ward Alderman David Crawford said after the meeting that most everyone wants to help the homeless. But, he worries that if the program is rushed into place, problems could arise hurting programs like this for years to come.
He said he would like to see the metro communities put together a set of rules and regulations for programs such as Fortitude.
“Everyone needs to be on the same page. No one wants people sleeping on the street, but we need to have rules that are applied throughout the area,” he said.
After the council meeting, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said she was ecstatic the program will begin.
“I know there was opposition, but they did the right thing,” she said.
Broers did not know how many people will take advantage of the program, but she has enough mattresses for up to 30 people.
The program always will be supervised through one paid on-site supervisor and a team of six to eight site volunteers.
Shelter occupants will not be allowed to come and go from the location. Once a person arrives for the night, they must stay until the next morning. If the person does leave, they are required to stay away for the rest of the night. Hourly outdoor smoking breaks are supervised.
The region has been struggling with shelter space since The Salvation Army closed its men’s and women’s shelters in mid-2017.
Voting against the conditional use permit for Immanuel Baptist were Crawford; Larry Osenga, R-3; Jim Faford, R-4; and Danita Grant Swanson, R-4. Alderman Dennis Baron, R-6, abstained from the vote because of a conflict of interest.