The suburbs of Chicago have had trouble serving the homeless. Despite a need to house a growing population, residents have often said "not in my backyard." A new permanent residence in Lake Zurich, Illinois is facing that debate.
Midlothian Manor has wall-to-wall berber carpet in the living room. The large space will have soon have a big screen TV and seating for several people. A few steps away, there’s a big communal kitchen. Even though the 14 apartments have their own kitchenettes, there’s space where people can make their meals with large sinks and long countertops.
The building is owned by the Lake County Housing Authority. It’ll lease the space to PADS, the organization that runs various temporary homeless sites throughout the suburbs. This building used to be a senior living residence and many of the built-in amenities will remain, like wheel chair accessible ramps and surveillance cameras.
“We have a camera system so management can watch, it’s called WatchNet, to make sure what’s going on and see who’s at the door and it tapes," said David Northern, executive director of the LCHA.
Joel Williams is the executive director of PADS Lake County. He says the housing isn't free. Occupants will have to sign a lease and use at least 30% of their income to live there. The 14 single room occupancy unit are only for the mentally ill.
“That could be mild schizophrenia. That could be a physical disability,” said Williams.
He says as the homeless population continues to grow, so does the need to find alternative housing for people, especially those who need chronic care.
“Research has shown that even though those with mental illness are a segment of the overall homeless population, about 10 to 15 percent, they tend to consume over half of the resources,” said Williams. “By getting them out of the general homeless service system, you’re actually freeing up the services for people who are episodically homeless.”
Williams estimates that on any given night, 500-700 people make their way to around 15 church shelters throughout the county. And because some homeless stay with family and friends, they’re not counted.
Mike will live at Midlothian Manor.
“I got diagnosed with what I was going through,” said Mike. “Psychotic disorder caused by polysubstance dependence and antisocial paranoia.”
Mike has lived in and out of shelters and mental institutions for years. He was in a relationship with a woman whose son was developmentally disabled. After the boy died, she committed suicide. Mike found out while in jail for allegedly assaulting her last year.
The charges were dismissed, which makes Mike eligible to live in these residences. PADS wants occupants to have clean records and may install a privacy fence to try and quell neighbors' concerns.
A few yards from the back of the Manor, Tim Gorey is blowing leaves off his lawn. He’s got mixed feelings about his new neighbors.
“There really is nothing to stop somebody who’s dealing with issues, walk out their back door and cause issues for other people,” said Gorey. “I’m not saying I’m against it. But on the other hand, it would be concerning.”
His neighbor Melissa agrees. She asked we not use her last name.
“I believe that people should have help and I think there should be places for homeless people. I’m all for it,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s the right location.”
Melissa can see the building from her home. She says the arrival of homeless residents in her neighborhood was approved without public input. The Manor is in unincorporated Lake Zurich, so the village had no say on the project. The village president won't comment on the issue.
Melissa worries about how how the residents will be able to manage their illnesses.
“I don’t know where their mind is at. What medication they’re at or how it’s going to be supervised,” said Melissa. “My concern is that I do have a young child. I just can’t take a chance.”
Mike and Melissa have one thing in common. They both want to live in a quiet town. Mike says living in Lake Zurich will keep him from returning to his former life in shelters and jail.
“I’m not going to wander around a rich town that I just moved into trying to peddle a bag of pot off somebody,” said Mike. “Everybody’s due a chance. And people really need to recognize mental illness as a disease and not just a copout.”
In an effort to try to reach out to the community, the organization plans a meeting before residents move in to answer any question or concerns people may have. PADS hopes to have Mike and the others moved in before Christmas.