After fleeing domestic violence, a mother and her three children -- a toddler and twin babies -- found a place to stay in one of three hotels used by DuPagePads to shelter the homeless during the pandemic.
The nonprofit organization moved families like hers from crowded, overnight shelters to vacant hotel rooms to help protect them from the coronavirus.
Hotel housing gave the mother and other domestic violence survivors privacy and security, cribs and toddler beds for their children.
“That is very difficult to do in a congregate model, but here in hotels, she can give her babies a bath,” said April Redzic, DuPagePads president and CEO. “She can stay in a space where she feels safe, and they can all sleep soundly.”
The arrangement was born out of pandemic necessity. But it’s worked out so well that DuPagePads is moving forward with plans to convert a Downers Grove hotel into interim housing for people experiencing homelessness.
DuPage County Board members have approved a $5 million funding request to help DuPagePads acquire the Red Roof Inn property near Butterfield Road and Highland Avenue.
The county will use federal funds to support the project, including a $3 million Community Development Block Grant and $2 million in coronavirus relief from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“This investment in what we are doing and in creating long-term solutions to end homelessness is tremendous, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those of us in this type of care,” Redzic said.
DuPagePads has housed more than 450 people, including over 150 children, in hotels throughout the pandemic. As of Monday night, more than 230 people were receiving shelter, a third of them children.
Normally, at the height of winter, DuPagePads would provide nightly refuge for roughly 150 homeless people.
“We’ve certainly seen a great increase in terms of need since the pandemic’s onset,” Redzic said.
COVID-19 forced advocates to close traditional, congregate shelters, many of them in churches. DuPagePads began renting hotel rooms for elderly clients with chronic health conditions, families and then individuals with the help of county funding.
Hotels also rented out rooms at discounted rates, bringing in a stream of business while the pandemic halted travel.
People who would otherwise be couch-surfing or moving from shelter to shelter each night had a hotel room to call their own, access to on-site services and stability.
“They know they have a bed to sleep in, so they can focus on their well-being and getting one step closer to ending their homelessness,” Redzic said.
The numbers back her up. Since moving clients into hotels in March 2020, DuPagePads saw an 80% drop in mental health incidents and requests for assistance compared to operations in the past, advocates say.
The agency also reported a fivefold increase in the use of case support services.
“This experience really motivated us to get to a point where we, the county, have a permanent structure to care for and to provide services for the homeless population,” DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
DuPagePads has about $1.5 million left to raise in donations to make the hotel program permanent. The nonprofit estimates the total cost at $7.5 million. The goal is to open the 130-unit interim housing center in spring 2022.
Until then, DuPagePads will continue housing homeless individuals at the Red Roof Inn and two other area hotels over the next several months.
A suite in the Downers Grove hotel has been converted into a resource room with clothing, laundry detergent and toiletries. Church partners also have brought in meals.
DuPagePads now plans to dedicate a room where kids can get tutoring and homework help. Advocates are looking to make another room available for health services.
“We talked to multiple health partners who are interested in coming in and providing primary care and health screenings literally out of this location,” Redzic said. “So we’re reducing barriers on all fronts to people getting the help they need.”
DuPagePads will continue to prioritize rooms for families with children, people with mobility issues and those escaping domestic violence. People can stay for as little as 24 hours, but in other cases, clients may be housed in hotel rooms for several weeks before DuPagePads helps secure permanent supportive housing.
Advocates have done just that for the mom and her three children, Redzic said.
“She is about to get into an affordable home of her own in time for the holidays,” she said.