If you've grown up comfortably in the suburbs, it can be hard to imagine what it would be like to be homeless. But most people are closer to homelessness than they may realize, according to Suzanne Ploger, director of development for Journeys | The Road Home.
"Homelessness can affect anyone," Ploger said, "A job loss, medical issue, divorce, or rising housing costs, each can be the one thing that can destabilize seemingly secure housing.
How you can help
"The people we serve are friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members, classmates of all of us in the North and Northwest suburbs."
The Daily Herald asked Ploger to share more about how this Palatine-based organization helps people to find a way home.
Q. What is your organization's mission?
Ploger. The mission of Journeys | The Road Home is to individually assess and serve the homeless and near homeless, while broadening community awareness and involvement with the homeless.
Q. How do you work toward accomplishing that goal?
Ploger. Journeys is the sole emergency shelter provider providing comprehensive clinical services for 37 communities of northwest and north suburban Cook County. Twenty faith communities partner with the agency to host our PADS program sites, where guests receive food, clothing, a place to sleep, and respite.
The HOPE Center, located in Palatine, offers homeless and near-homeless clients emergency services (such as daily meals, food pantry, showers, transportation, bicycles, laundry, etc.) and counseling services related to housing placement, income support and development, and health care.
Q. Who does your organization serve?
Ploger. We serve those who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless in the northwest suburbs of Cook County, encompassing 10 townships. Last year we served almost 1,000 individuals across our service area, one third of whom were from the Palatine and Arlington Heights area.
Q. When and why did the organization start? How has it grown?
Ploger. In the 1980s, faith communities in northwest suburban Cook County were realizing that more and more people were coming to their doors for help because they were homeless. They responded by organizing a joint effort, beginning in 1989, called Northwest Suburban PADS, a system of volunteer-run emergency shelters hosted at the congregations.
Three years later, HOPE NOW Inc. was organized to provide case management, counseling, and housing services as complements to the shelters. In 2001, these two bodies merged to form Journeys from PADS to HOPE. In 2012, the organization changed its business name to JOURNEYS | The Road Home to emphasize that it serves all people struggling with housing needs.
Over the years, the agency has undergone a transformation from a primarily volunteer-driven, limited service agency for homeless residents into a comprehensive, professional human service agency for all coping with housing crises.
Our services bring hope to those facing eviction or foreclosure, the working poor, and those recently unemployed. While other local agencies often focus on serving specific populations, Journeys' clients are not turned away because of any presenting problem, and all services are free for as long as they are needed.
Residents can access these programs regardless of the problems they face (mental illness, physical disability, unemployment, etc.) or their gender, race, ethnicity, family size, faith, or sexual orientation.
Q. What kind of successes have you had?
Ploger. Each and every day brings successes, big and small. From being able to provide a warm, safe place of shelter in a time of need, to finding the benefit programs to stabilize a family, to ultimately being able to secure permanent housing, our clinical staff works to meet the needs of all of our clients and their unique situations.
In the last year alone, our staff was able to transition 95 homeless residents into housing and prevented 288 near-homeless clients from losing their homes. These success stories include a 34-year military veteran, a single mom and her son, a grandmother taking care of her grandchildren, and a family struggling with job loss and medical issues.
Q. What challenges does the organization currently face?
Ploger. While Journeys does not receive any funding from the state of Illinois, other area agencies reliant on state funding have had to downsize staffs and reduce client services due to the ongoing state budget crisis. Consequently, clients from these nonprofits affected by the state budget crisis have come to Journeys for assistance. In the last couple of years, the number of people requesting services has been increasing, with projections for this year on track to number more than 1,000 individuals. In addition, the number of individual services being provided to our clients has risen 25 percent over this same time last year as a result. We continue to work to find additional funding sources to meet this continuing increase in demand for services.
Q. What do you wish the community at large knew about the organization?
Ploger. Many people ask why would a region known for its highly ranked schools, opportunities for advancement, and affluence need a homeless service provider. All of our clients are from our shared communities and our work is only made possible with support from our shared community.
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