Traci DeWitt began a Tuesday night training session for McDonough County PADS volunteers with these words: "Those who have something on the ends of their pencils, you are now homeless."
McDonough County PADS, or Public Action to Deliver Shelter, is an emergency homeless shelter system that will be run by a local non-profit social service group, Genesis Garden. The basement of First Presbyterian Church, 400 E. Carroll St., on Tuesday was used for the mock run-through of a typical night.
Those who chose a pencil marked with a strip of colored tape played the roles of those using the shelter. DeWitt, who will direct McDonough County PADS and previously ran the PADS shelter system in Clarendon Hills, assigned some of them characters — a teenage boy who claimed to be 18 but isn't, an elderly woman with dementia and a man with Schizophrenia.
DeWitt said she wanted volunteers to get a sense of the people they may encounter.
Others played the roles of those working at the shelter, checking in guests and serving meals. Once checked in — doors will close at 9:45 p.m. — guests will be provided with a meal, sleeping pad and toiletries.
As part of the check-in process, those using the shelter will receive an instant background check with a thumbprint reader and computer software. Shelter staff will fill out an optional intake form, which can be shared with other agencies.
"We are the bridge to social services," DeWitt said.
Paul and Sheila Nollen of Macomb were among those who participated in Tuesday's run-though. The Nollens decided to volunteer with McDonough County PADS because they recall what happened when Macomb's Shade Tree Village Mobile Home Park closed suddenly in 2010, leaving about 50 people displaced.
"That's when we realized housing is a problem," Sheila said. "From that point on, it was obvious something needed to happen. We worked with one individual in particular and got to know what he needed. It took five or six months of looking for different places for him to live."
Paul Nollen often volunteers at the Loaves & Fishes food pantry and says he sees the need for an emergency homeless shelter.
"It just seems like the right thing to do," he said about helping with McDonough County PADS.
Plans are for the shelter to be open 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Friday through Sunday, at different churches throughout Macomb from October through April.
DeWitt will work each of those nights, all night, and bring in sleeping pads, toiletries, a computer and a machine that will read the thumbprint of every guest checking in
The shelter, which is based on a national network of PAD emergency shelters set up in churches, could be up and running by late February, according to DeWitt.
Page 2 of 2 - Macomb city officials are in the process of looking into changing zoning ordinances that will allow churches to operate as moveable, emergency shelters.
McDonough County PADS has raised about $1,500 to kick off the emergency shelter.