Jimmy Smith gained critical yardage this past week in his effort to open a men’s halfway house in the former Homestead restaurant site.
The Kankakee Planning Board, by a 7-0 vote, approved the conditional use request to operate a halfway house in a commercially zoned district just west of South Schuyler Avenue in the 2nd Ward of Kankakee.
Smith, who operates the ”We Stand For Christ Jesus Ministries,” is seeking to operate a halfway house for up to 16 drug-addicted men at 1230 S. East Ave. in Kankakee.
Smith’s organization already operates a thrift store and church in the building.
Because the planning board is only a recommending body regarding conditional use permits, the matter must go before the Kankakee City Council for its approval. A date for that action was not stated.
“Currently, the county has nothing like this,” Smith said. “Clearly we know we have a [drug] problem,” Smith said, adding the nearest residential treatment facility like this is in Joliet.
Kankakee 2nd Ward Alderman Mike O’Brien, however, sent a letter to the planning board supporting the permit.
During the discussion of this request and listening to endorsements, concerns and suggestions from citizens, one person — Kankakee resident Lance Marczak — suggested placing a one-year clause on the conditional use permit.
Marczak stated the planning board would then be required to revisit the application in a year and if there are problems or concerns, the permit could be lifted. If the program operates as all people hope, then a permanent permit could be put in place.
The board ultimately agreed with that suggestion and placed it into the conditional use ordinance.
“I’m comfortable with this location,” said Mike Hoffman, Kankakee’s planning consultant.
Smith, 60, a former standout Kankakee Westview High School football player, who spent some time in the National Football League in the 1980s, purchased the location through the ministry in November 2020 from Kankakee businessman Steve Emme.
Well known in Kankakee for his physical gridiron skills, Smith may be equally known for his fall from glory as his career and life spiraled downward. He eventually picked himself up and devoted his life to Jesus and helping others who are battling the same demons Smith fought.
In an interview last year, Smith said, “I want to help people who came out of the same hole I was in. This community will help us.”
Not unlike many organizations which attempt to locate these facilities, there were questions about what impact this could have on the area, which is located directly west of the Shapiro Development Center.
The nonprofit organization would earmark at least five beds in the halfway house for Kankakee County residents seeking help to overcome their addictions.
Smith said it would be at least 18-24 months before they would have the ability to house 16 men there. He said he would like to open the halfway house with eight to 10 beds filled.
The only person who spoke out against the program was Emme, who helped get Smith started on this plan.
Emme stated Smith is taking on too much responsibility and is fearful he will not be able to juggle all of these duties.
“He’d be a wonderful spiritual leader. I don’t know if he can lead from the top. ... I don’t believe he can handle all this.”
Emme said the location will need “top flight” leadership. “I don’t think it’s in him to do that,” he said. He said he worries as to what impact this could have on the neighborhood.
Smith stressed to planning board members that the location would not be a treatment facility, but rather a location where men would gather to discuss their issues and begin their life in recovery. A client would work his way through the program’s four-step process and reside at the location for no more than 12 months.
Smith’s application to the city stated the occupants would “likely” be men.
The men staying at the site would pay weekly rent, likely in the $75 range.
The location would be licensed by the State of Illinois.
The longtime home of the popular Homestead restaurant had been seeking a new use since the property was vacated in June 2018. After the Homestead closed, a pair of entrepreneurs attempted to operate restaurants at the site, but ultimately were not successful.