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Alderman. Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, who is among the candidates running for mayor in Evanston’s 2017 election, says that people experiencing homelessness in the city is an issue that makes his “head spin.”
As such, Ald. Tendam is speaking out about a longtime organization that opens the doors of Evanston’s churches to individuals without a place to go on winter nights. That organization, Interfaith Action of Evanston, is a coalition of religious organizations and individuals dedicated to serving “hungry and homeless people, pursue interfaith dialogue, and engage in advocacy that promotes social justice,” according to its website.
Interfaith Action arranges for area religious institutions to alternate providing shelter for homeless individuals when the temperature dips below a certain level, a snowstorm occurs or the weather is otherwise inclement. There are six different locations utilized for the program, all readily accessible from downtown: First Congregational Church of Evanston; First United Church of Evanston; First Presbyterian Church of Evanston; St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of Evanston; Beth Emet, The Free Synagogue; and Unitarian Church of Evanston.
Each shelter potentially serves about 25 men and 10 women.
“None of them are hard to get to,” said Ald. Tendam, who said the key challenge is communicating which one is open at any given time. “It’s difficult to manage, in that they only open up when the temperature reaches a certain low. We’ve bumped that up from five degrees to 15 degrees, but I wouldn’t want to be out on the street at 50 degrees at night.”
Ald. Tendam said stakeholders are looking to raise about $18,000 to 20,000 in additional funds, and not dip into reserves they built up last year thanks to a mild winter. “That would keep the shelter open, worst-case scenario, 60 nights this winter,” he added. “But you can’t predict the weather.”
Another focus will be connecting clients with wraparound services focusing on additional facets of their well-being beyond shelter, he noted.
“They’ll be able to register with Connections for the Homeless, which is probably one of our leading agencies dealing with homelessness in this community,” said Ald. Tendam.
He noted that while there are a few other networks of locations that assist individuals in need of shelter, those are usually limited to certain individuals, such as those serving only one gender or assisting those seeking refuge from abusive domestic situations.
“The bigger picture for all of this is nobody is offering extended shelter service and getting people into case management, or dealing with quite possibly a double or triple [mental health] diagnosis,” Ald. Tendam added. “It’s such a cruel environment to be in, even in Evanston. … It’s not enough to get people in from out of the cold, or even just back ‘on their feet.’ You have to get them into the system so they can receive care for mental health.”
The organization will need manpower and funds to assist in setting up, taking down and moving the shelters, so Interfaith Action has approached other organizations for grants, he said. “The homeless issue is so fluid, it really becomes everybody’s issue at some point.”
Information on Interfaith Action of Evanston’s shelter program is available at interfaithactionofevanston.org or call 847-475-1150.