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The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new feature to the face of homelessness in Downers Grove and neighboring towns. Before the mandated shutdown of DuPage PADS, many of the homeless could rely on PADS’ various sites to provide a place to sleep, a hot meal in the morning and a sack lunch to take with them when they left the site in the morning. Now there is no breakfast or lunch.
Businesses and public buildings throughout the area are also shuttered. Public libraries, restaurants, municipal buildings and park facilities are no longer available to people who rely on these facilities for warmth, restrooms and, most importantly, water, as water fountains are turned off during the winter.
When the PADS shutdown occurred, the homeless were encouraged to shelter at a temporary site at the DuPage County Fairgrounds, arranged for and staffed by DuPage PADS. However, some homeless chose not to go to the fairgrounds. In fact, a small group of men continued to shelter in a covered parking garage, entering in the evening when the majority of cars have left and vacating early in the morning.
One of garage residents, Ron, has explained that people have various reasons for avoiding PADS, such as addiction, fear of theft and mental illness. These people are constantly on the move, hiding their belongings during the day in bushes, which sometimes results in the items being disposed of by village crews.
Many residents of Downers Grove have become acutely aware of the ongoing need for food and water for the homeless, particularly with the upsurge of need since the enormous COVID-19 impact. Some residents have rallied and provided food and water, transporting the items to parking garages and train stations.
Other community members have committed to making donations to FISH Food Pantry, Hope’s Front Door and St. Andrew’s Church’s Little Free Pantry at 1125 Franklin St. in Downers Grove. One frequenter of the Little Free Pantry said that he relies on the pantry regularly since he does not receive food stamps.
The coronavirus and its impact is evident throughout the world, the nation and the community. However, a group affected to an even greater extent is the vulnerable population of the homeless who are reliant on services that have been curtailed and shuttered. These people are present everywhere and continue to be hungry, thirsty and in need.
About the author: Denise Cantrall has lived in Downers Grove for much of her life since 1958. She is a Downers Grove South High School graduate, and both of her daughters as well as husband also attended Community High School District 99 schools. She is a long-time member of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. She has been involved in many community activities and is the current steward of the Little Free Pantry.