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Pioneer Center raising funds for McHenry expansion, faces concerns from some

Pioneer Center co-CEO Frank Samuel discusses a project for a homeless shelter in McHenry.
Pioneer Center co-CEO Frank Samuel discusses a project for a homeless shelter in McHenry.

Pioneer Center leaders are trying to drum up public support for a planned expansion project, but they faced some concerns during a public meeting on the matter Wednesday.

The social service center wants to open a 24/7 homeless shelter in McHenry. The shelter would be at 1809 S. Route 31, near Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital and Pioneer Center’s main offices. The Chapel owns the building but has offered about 10,000 square feet for shelter use.

Pioneer Center currently operates the McHenry County PADS program, which aims to assist people who are experiencing homelessness.

The nonprofit runs a day center and 34-bed emergency shelter at its Kishwaukee Valley Road site in Woodstock. In the winter, local churches traditionally have offered temporary night shelters that serve 40 to 60 people.

The McHenry location will replace those programs and will have room for about
70 people a night. Startup costs are projected to be between $500,000 and $750,000. Annual operating costs will be about $1 million.

It currently costs about $800,000 to run the center’s homeless services, and Pioneer Center has been operating on a deficit of about $200,000 annually, which means a $400,000-a-year funding gap is expected, Pioneer Center co-CEO Frank Samuel said.

During Wednesday’s meeting, some people expressed concerns that the emergency shelter only plans to allow clients to stay at the center for 30 to 60 days, with extended stays allowed under special circumstances.

“I love the fact that they are doing this, but it’s too short-term,” said Judi Szilak, a community member and licensed clinical social worker.

Some audience members suggested that the center continue to work with its church sites after the shelter opens.

“I love the solution of a backup plan,” said Shelli Hedgcock, a volunteer at Crystal Lake’s Christian Fellowship Church, which works with PADS to offer night shelters.

Hedgcock said she has seen clients firsthand who take a year or longer to get back on their feet because of various problems, such as the time it takes to get approved for disability payments or affordable housing programs.

Pioneer Center co-CEO Sam Tenuto said the decision to focus on a shorter-term emergency care model was strategic and born from community-needs assessments.

“It’s not the solution for everything,” he said. “But it’s just about being here for those in need of shelter.”

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