Bradley stalls homeless shelter

November 7, 2018

BRADLEY — Ruth Henning, owner of the Dance in the Light studio in Bradley, thought her place would be a good spot for a one-day-per-week homeless shelter.

By its very nature, the dance studio at 431 W. Broadway St. has the open space a homeless shelter needs. And it has two showers.

Henning was ready to go, but village officials stopped her. They told her the business is in a business zone and needed to first go through a zoning process, which could take months.

This is a setback for the local nonprofit, Fortitude Community Outreach, which has been trying to open seven homeless shelters by mid-November, one for each day of the week.

So far, Fortitude has signed up five churches. They are First Church of the Nazarene, Immanuel Baptist and Resurrection Community Church of the Nazarene, all in Kankakee; Central Christian Church in Bourbonnais; and River Valley Christian Fellowship in Bradley.

Village administrator Catherine Wojnarowski said Bradley is not opposed to a homeless shelter, but the zoning code would have to be changed to let that happen where the studio is.

“We don’t have a stance on whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. What do homeless people need? How can we be supportive of them?” Wojnarowski said.

Last month, the village and Fortitude put out a news release saying they were working together to find places for shelters this winter.

Fortitude originally was aiming to open its shelter system Nov. 18, but it might have to be later in the season.

Dawn Broers, Fortitude’s executive director, said her group is working to sign up two more places for shelters.

“We need church members to speak to their church leadership to say they would love to see a shelter at their facility. It’s difficult for leadership to take charge if they fear members won’t support it,” Broers said.

Fortitude won’t open its shelter system until it gets organizations confirmed for all seven days. It would be impractical for the homeless to go to shelters for part of the week, Broers said.

“They’re likely to keep their protected spaces such as under bridges rather than leave them. They’ll lose their spaces if they are not out there every night,” Broers said.

One of the challenges with sites is transportation. The local bus services doesn’t reach all the churches that could belong to the shelter system, Broers said.

To solve this, Fortitude is arranging to use church vans in the evenings and mornings for the homeless to get to and from shelters. This will open possibilities for churches away from bus routes to take part.

Last winter, Kankakee County was without a major homeless shelter. The Salvation Army’s men’s and women’s shelters closed in mid-2017.

The new shelters will be open spaces with dividers.

“None of the guests or volunteers will be alone. The shelters will be supervised all night long,” Broers said.

Henning, of Dance in the Light, expressed disappointment in the village’s reaction to her proposal.

“If this was something the village board wanted, they would help make it happen,” she said. “I know there are laws and codes, but things can be adjusted and worded differently to allow certain things. I think it’s important to hear the voice of the people of Bradley. Many people would like to see a shelter.”

Broers said she was optimistic Fortitude would succeed.

“There has been an outpouring of support from the community and businesses,” she said.

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