Gimme Shelter

The new PADS Permanent Facility for the Homeless in Country Club Hills, Ill.

For 10 years, once a month, I would leave my comfortable bed at 4:45 a.m., drive through the winter slush to a local Jewish temple, and schlep mattress pads off the floor where 50 homeless guys had snored the night away in warmth and awkward camaraderie.

I did it not out of a soaring sense of compassion for the hapless poor of American society, though those feelings did warm me on those frigid mornings, but because my friend Jerry Levine, oil industry lobbyist and book reviewer extraordinaire for Today’s Machining World, suggested I do it. The volunteers used to go out for breakfast after the homeless men were out the door, some headed to jobs, many meandering down the streets to the local McDonald’s or White Castle to idle their lonely days away.

Today I will celebrate the official opening of the PADS Permanent Facility for the Homeless in Country Club Hills, Ill., a $20 million dollar permanent site where the homeless, evicted, displaced folks seeking shelter can find a safe place to stay temporarily–maybe several months–and hopefully pull their messy lives together.

After my heart attack four years ago, I stopped doing my monthly shelter stint, but Jerry and I continued having breakfast regularly. He has given me an insider’s view of how this testament to the best of America’s spirit of volunteerism and charity somehow survived the venality of American political infighting and the sloppiness of Government bureaucracy to somehow pull the money together for this amazing edifice for the poor of the South Suburbs of Chicago.

Jerry Levine, writer of the “Book Review” for Today’s Machining World and advocate for the construction of the new PADS facility for the homeless in Country Club Hills, Ill.

I know the project would never have been built without Jerry’s untiring effort and unshakable belief in the need for shelter for the sad, tortured and often just luckless among us.

Of the 20 or so towns in the area, exactly none of them wanted a permanent homeless shelter in their community. “Not in my backyard” was the view of the local mayors. For almost 15 years, the shelter volunteers talked up various sites, but nobody would take a chance on their local political future to advocate for a group that had no clout and probably didn’t even vote.

But four years ago, a bizarre event that could never be anticipated took place. Dwight Welsh, a white mayor, in a virtually all black town, Country Club Hills, had an epiphany. His mother was dying and he claims that on her deathbed she told him to build the homeless shelter in his town. Crazy story, but Welsh made it his mission to fulfill his mother’s dying wish. He needed a plot of land to be donated that was big enough and accessible by public transportation. And it had to be isolated enough so neighbors wouldn’t go nuts about the structure killing their property values.

And Walsh knew he had the perfect piece of ground for the project. A developer wanted to build an outlet mall on a strategic parcel near two Interstate highways in the village. The owner of the property, a wealthy black funeral home operator, needed to keep Dwight Welsh happy if the Outlet Mall was ever going to be built. Dwight cajoled three acres out of him and then the race began for the government money to build the project. If you had the land and the permits, the money was out there in various government vaults if you knew how to work the bureaucracies that controlled it. Jerry told me that there were consultants who made a career out of playing the game of unlocking government money. When you find the right consultants, lawyers, architects and politicians you can stitch together the funds if you have the site.

Today, the local politicians converged on the brand new 5-story building sitting in the prairie next to the Interstates, within walking distance of my office, for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The local shelters in the churches and temples are still needed but now there is finally a port in the storm for the homeless people to hopefully repair their lives. For my friend Jerry Levine, it is the culmination of a good man’s effort to help people few of us really care about. For the local Mayor, Dwight Welch, it’s the validation of his mother’s wish.

Does the American political system work? Every once in a great while – yes – it does.

Question: Is helping the homeless a proper function of government?

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22 thoughts on “Gimme Shelter

  1. Bob

    Great story Lloyd! Nice to still hear the good stories in a chaotic world! I do think the government should assist those who can’t help themselves. I do however draw the line at able bodies who know how to work the system for a helping hand they don’t need. There is nothing wrong nor more humbling than getting your life back in order. I truly believe this facility will be successful.

  2. Bill Camloh

    Kudos to Jerry. There is no end to what man can accomplish through vision and persistence. Will the politicians say “We built that”?
    Helping the homeless is not a proper function of government. It is a function of human beings who have compassion for those less fortunate, and thankfully there are a lot of them around. Non-profit, non-government entities that I have been exposed to do a great job in meeting the basic needs of those in need, and helping to repair lives of those who want it repaired.

  3. Josh Weaver

    That’s a nice thought Jerry, but they don’t. If they did, government safety nets would never have been required and thus never institutionalized. I think the government has a role in protecting the indigent members of our society. I’m more than willing to pay a piece of my wages to support those who cannot support themselves, those with mental and physical disabilities and those who come upon rough times through no fault of their own. I’m not sure where the idea evolved that everyone who uses government assistance is some freeloading mooch. There are plenty of hardworking people who at some point require unemployment insurance or some other form of assistance. Have you ever taken a tax credit, for instance the child tax credit? Well you’ve taken government assistance. What about oil and farm subsidies? That’s also government assistance. You’re okay with government assistance when it keeps the price of your gas down but the working father of 2 who got laid off from GM and needs unemployment insurance is just some lazy freeloader? Come on, who do you think is getting more money from the government?

  4. JW

    Bill, we built that is a BS phrase in response to a quote snippet taken out of context. Let me break it down for you. If you started a business in the USA and were successful you have done an incredible thing. You worked hard and no one is questioning your personal investment and achievement. You know what though? You absolutely did not build that on your own. You built it in an environment that was prosperous to business, an environment created by your government. You shipped and received goods to your facility on roads payed for by the taxpayer, ie the government. You were protected from invasion and fire by police forces and fire departments, most of which are paid for with taxpayer dollars. The majority of your employees were likely educated in public schools and state universities. Do you know who funds those? Taxpayers, ie the government. So yes, you put in a lot of work and a lot of time and effort and no one is trying to cheapen what you’ve done but you absolutely cannot deny that the US government and all the taxpayers who support it play a part in your success. That’s why you have to pay taxes. The end. Finite.

  5. Mike Richads

    Of course the indigent need help. I have tried to empoy some of these people and they can’t last a day. So it is not practical to simply tell them to get a job. The problem is that the government doesn’t know when to stop or how to say no. So we go from homeless to providing cell phones and computers. We even borrow money to do it.

  6. MS

    Of course helping the homeless is a proper function of government.

    Too many people think that the homeless choose that way of life so they can mooch off of society. In Mitt Romney’s case, he thinks 47 percent of the population are moochers in one way or another.

    Truth is, there are very few that choose to be homeless. They end up that way by losing a job, having a husband leave (yes, women and children are homeless) or have physical or emotional ailments that preclude them from finding a job.

    Once a person is homeless, it is extremely tough to find a job. No permanent address to put down on the job application, no way of getting to a job interview, nobody to look after the kids, no jobs available, etc. there are a whole host of reasons a homeless person has a difficult time finding a job. And in most cases, it is not because they are lazy.

    The role of government is to look out for all the people.

    Unfortunately, there are way too many people in this country that think that if you are homeless, you are probably choosing that lifestyle and therefore don’t deserve any help.

  7. Larry Clayman

    Helping the poor is ABSOLUTELY a role that our government should engage in. I sat on the board for a local homeless shelter specifically for women and their children and I can tell you that in addition to the stereotype most of us middle class white guys have of the homeless, there are a great number of homeless who are there by shear circumstances. In the case of the shelter I was affiliated with, it was many women who were abused by men who were either alcoholics or simply ran out on the women after the kid(s) were born.
    For a variety of reasons, these women had not developed work skills on their own and, if their family was not local, they had no support system to help them. In addition, since the recession, the local women’s shelter was getting what they called the “new poor”, people who never dreamed they would ever be homeless and because of the mortgage collapse, job losses, etc., they found themselves at a terrible place in their lives. Most shelters are short term solutions and offer counseling on a variety of areas from job searches to help in getting kids to the local school, etc. Until we can get this economy back on its feet, this is going to be a continuing problem that our government cannot turn its back on — regardless of who is in office on January 20th, 2013.

  8. Jim Goerges

    Couple things, I think people are responsible for people. It works the best this way. A perfect example is your friend asking you to volunteer, maybe consider doing it again, it makes one feel good! Like you, I have not done as much since being diagnosed with HCM, hypertrophic cardio myopathy, but am better and need to get back in the game. A sideline, HCM is the enlargement of the heart, 1 in 500 have this and this is probably higher as it is extremely under diagnosed. Back to the answer, I also think people helping people(no government) is a great service to mankind, church groups, Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Red Cross, ect. These are great vehicles of care and welfare. I think when government gets involved, things get more expensive due to crazy bureaucracy and rules that get in the way. Seems the more government helps, the further we go backwards, no one gets better and the bills get bigger and bigger, 17 trillion and counting but not including 55 trillion promised but not funded is absurd and not sustainable or responsible. Somehow we gotta get people back to being responsible for themselves and there own family. There is help that works long term and provides dignity and a sense of self worth in the world today, these attributes seems to be missing in our government programs. For example, in third world country’s, loans are given to the extremely poor people on the condition that they must pay back this money, support and help is provided in how they need to invest in themselves to get a return on investment. No banks were willing to help these ultra poor people. A businessman took it upon himself to work with the very poor and the results are AMAZING, all loans are paid back, this is a 100% rule, and with this rule, money, and training, these family’s work hard to get themselves out of the poor conditions they are in, this is truly amazing and inspirational work. Like yourself, this Godly businessman is making a real difference in the lives of the extreme poor and there family’s. This is the real hope and change, and these people are being responsible themselves and these people pay back the loans, improve there lives and they have incredible pride and self worth, and they are thankful to have been given a chance and with help prove they are productive and worthy and gain respect in there familys, themselves and in the community! This is truly worthwhile and inspirational with NO government help! The government should help all people and should not get in the way of family’s being successful and dependent upon themselves. Again, I think people should help people.

  9. Norman Van Spronsen

    Caring for the poor is a mitzvah (commandment,) but would you trust government to fulfill any of your other mitzvot for you? All that money you tapped into for your building came from us in the first place. Wouldn’t it have been better to leave it in your hands in the first place so you could obey the mitzvah and help your neighbor? As for Christians, Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” He didn’t include your alms for the poor. Caesar is too prone to mishandle those–he has to maintain his armies.


    Most of you aren’t old enough to remember the start of modern entitleness. It was the first stimulus program introduced by that great humanitarian FDR. The depression started in 1929 and by 1932 we had all the economic illnesses that we experience today. Those who waited for government help, stood in line for their allotment of coal,political food baskets and other goodies doled out by the ward bosses as life indenture to a particular party. There were those of us who didn’t find screening for unburned coal in the ashheaps of local industry a demeaning occupation. And when these cast-offs petered out, resorted to knocking coal off the tops of loaded freight cars and then gathering it to take home. We didn’t have a food bank, but we did have an empty lot to till and plant in our spare time after school. In the summer we were farmed out to farmers for 14 and 16 hour days that contributed to our good health. One year, we were really lucky when a violent storm delivered two large wooden scows for us to salvage. Marvelous timbers and they kept the house warm all winter. Dad, didn’t wait for someone to offer him a job. He scanned the construction reports and traveled to where he could earn an honest living. It wasn’t all work and no play. We played both football and baseball and belonged to a turn verien where we learned gymnastics. The instructor was a volunteer. I built a ham radio out of salvage parts, call sign,”Two Galloping Questionmarks two miles south of the statue of Liberty,(W2GQM). Took an entrance exam and went to college on 26 cents an hour washing dishes in a Greek diner until a wonderful little old housemother from the Jewish Frat gave me a job, fed me and taught me hygene which I find useful even today at age 92. I became an engineer and went to work at Western Electric. When our nation became threatened I joined the military and became a combat fighter pilot and went off to war. And during this time we lost our house, made do in rentals and finally bought another house. We all grew up and grew old without an iota of regret. We built Cabrini-Greens and Hoyt Igos and tore them down when the residents were too lazy to exert a modicum of decency. We have built billions in homes and have destroyed those billions, providing the opportunity of modern day do-gooders the use of taxpayer contributions to once again rescue the lame and the lazy. The rescue is biblical. We are admonished,”We will always have the poor.” Some will be poor in worldly things, some poor in spirit, but they are here and if President Obama has his way, they will inherit the earth. Or is it the dirt.

  11. Fritz

    I wonder how many successful, independent, now self-sufficient, businessmen were once in thier lives homeless. Or living out of thier vehicle if you could categorize that as homeless–if only for days or weeks, if not months. How many of us went to work after showering at a gym or church or theatre or truckstop in a suit or pants from Goodwill pressed with who knows what process to keep it clean and crisp enough not to give away the secret. Then work hard enough to make it through a bad time and get back on our feet and pull ourselves up by two different color bootstraps. I know of three such people of my generation alone.. Gen X’ers… How many do you know of any particular generation or region? I believe once a person has been successful, they can be again, no matter the situation, but for someone who has not tasted it in thier lifetime they are limited more by what people believe of them than what they believe in themselves. I was in Hot Springs, AR this weekend, (home to many Chicagoans if I recall history correctly) and while searching for a lunch spot to equal the Fri night buffet at The Arlington Hotel from the night before my Fiancé and I wandered into a place that looked RO be attracting a lot of locals. The surprised looks on most peoples’ faces and seating arrangement indicated quite quickly that this was not a restaurant of the type that we were searching for. I didn’t feel badly for stumbling in and didn’t feel unwelcome by anyone except maybe some of the staff. I’d tipped the waiter the night before who was short staffed and doing a great job $50 and bought two of them a beer. I also knew the appalling amount of excellent food that would be destroyed after that buffet shut down was enough to serve 200 people and hoped that it did someone some good. It is true that many of the people who take advantage of the people who run The Masters Table wouldn’t have a chance in Hell of ever getting a waiters job at The Arlington or anywhere else, but if more companies got rid of thier “no walk-ins, job applications taken online only” policy I honestly believe we’d have a measurably better workforce across the nation.

  12. Mike Yeager

    When good men are left alone to ponder they will do the right thing and help out those less fortunate. The current trend of taking from the haves and giving to the have nots is driving a barrier between good poeple. The government should not be in this business, but should stay out of the way and let good men do what they will do.

  13. Eric

    Religious and other charitable organizations do a great job of helping the less fortunate in society. That is one of the main reasons they exist. Gov’t should have some role but at a much smaller scale.
    REALLY! ARE YOU SERIOUS! A $20 million facility to house homeless people?? That building is a waste of money… You could have built simple barracks on that site and had money left over to copy it in many more locations. Or give a fraction of it to charitable organizations to create PADS sites if needed.
    Again, another example of gov’t getting involved and BLOWING money. Who is paying for the maintenance and taxes on this site?? Employees now??
    My church along with others in the community participate in a PADS program. A mat, free dinner/breakfast, and a warm room/handshake is all they need and expect.
    Your story is bleeding heart liberalism at its finest!

  14. Joe Landry

    No, our government sticks it’s nose into all sorts of things that it should not, and taking care of the homeless is just one of them. They ignore the true responsibilities of government, and focus on things that they can claim they are doing for the good of the whole country.

    Most Americans want more and more from our government. The problem as I see it is that when looking at all the things our government does, I cannot find anything they do well. Asking an incompetent government to do more for us is something like hiring a high school dropout to run my company. They simply do not have the skills to do even a good job, let alone a great job.

    Again, in my opinion, the problem is the election system we use. The election system is so bad, and so broken that the smartest, most educated and most competent people in our country will not participate. Consequently, we end up with incompetent leaders that have no clue how to address the difficult issues. The issues they do address they just throw money at.

    How much per square foot did this government funded homeless shelter cost? The local library recently built in my very rural hometown in VA cost $3000.00 per square foot. $1.8 million for a 6000 square foot facility in a town of 1000 people. The government officials that approved this project are not capable of making good decisions, so I want them to do less, not more.

  15. Allen

    Yes. If by chance or change I became homeless, the past 40 years of paying government taxes I should expect help from that same government. It has changed many times but they always took my money. I don’t ever recall signing or agreeing to working hard for the taxman so I could be denied assistance later on. That is BS.

  16. Ray

    The government should help those in need for a finite period of time while assisting to get people back on there feet.
    As the famous sign in Yellowstone Park says, “Please do not feed the animals lest they forget how to fend for themselves.”
    ” Give a man a fish and he will be satisfied for one day. Teach him to fish and he will be satisfied for life.”
    If history has taught us anything,It would not surprise me if this facility is torn down within five years.

  17. Keith

    In a perfect world, private citizens would always be there to provide assistance to those in need. In the real world, there is no obligation to help our fellow man, and the powerless among us are left to trust their survival and that of their children to luck and random benevolence.
    If we have a government ‘of the people’ and ‘for the people’, the answer seems clear. Government assistance is the only CERTAIN way to provide a lifeline in this very imperfect world.

  18. Don Bentley

    I believe that we are supposed to care for those who cannot care for themselves, that we are to help feed the poor and shelter the homeless. I’m also positive that when the government dictates it & creates bureaucracies to run it and to tax the citizens to pay for it all, it is immediately unsuccessful, covered with waste and abuse, becomes unsustainable and is then dismantled, leaving everyone involved in ruins. To create a “Permanent Facility for the Homeless” and warehouse people in it is to create an environment of permanent entitlement, for those living there & those who profit from it.
    I get a certain feeling of wellness when I give to someone in need or work in a shelter, to lend a hand to get someone back on their feet helps everyone in the community. To have it mandated by a government strips that away and creates resentment for everyone involved.
    I suppose you could call me “Pro-Choice”, I think the government’s involvement makes it nearly impossible for charity to be “good works” and by making taxpayers obligated and recipients entitled destroys our respect, dignity or love for our fellow man, and you wind up with a nation where acts of crime become commonplace and acts of caring become rare.

    “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”- Gerald Ford

  19. Josh Inklovich

    Bravo to you Jerry! You worked it the best way one can — taking the money from the government, who is clueless, and putting it in the hands of thoughtful, dedicated men and women who can make the best use of it. We can do far better than they can, I am sure.

    IMHO, sounds like divine intervention. As Rick said above… what would Jesus do? Read the story and you see!


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