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Daily Journal
     January 19, 2022      #33-19 KDJ

Kankakee council narrowly approves homeless vet

By Lee Provost

KANKAKEE — By the slimmest of margins, the Kankakee City Council approved the needed conditional use permit for the operation of a homeless veterans’ residence in the city.

Mayor Chris Curtis cast the eighth vote needed to grant the conditional use permit so a 14-unit apartment facility can be operated in Kankakee after the 13 city council members present had mustered only a 7-4 vote of approval.

Both 2nd Ward aldermen Mike O’Brien and David Baron abstained from the vote due to potential conflicts of interest. The 14th council member, Michael Prude, D-1, was not at Tuesday’s meeting.

By law, a majority vote of all elected city council members is needed to approve an ordinance. In Kankakee’s case, that means eight votes are required.

The property will now be purchased by the Kankakee County Housing Authority and it is anticipated the property will come into its possession by early spring.

KCHA attorney Eric Hanson said after the meeting it is anticipated the estimated $1.7 million rehab project for the property at 210-214 S. Washington Ave. will begin at that time.

It is likely that occupancy for homeless veterans will not take place until 2023.

Hanson said he breathed a sigh of relief once Curtis cast the needed eighth vote.

“I was surprised. I thought we would have received more support,” he said, noting the Illinois Housing Development Authority will be meeting on Friday to grant its final approval on the $2.9 million investment, which includes the purchase and redevelopment costs.

“This is a huge step,” Hanson said.

Voting in favor of the permit were Carl Brown and Reginald Jones, D-7; Carmen Lewis and Victor Nevarez, D-5; Lance Marczak, R-4; and David Crawford and Larry Osenga, R-3.

Voting against the conditional use permit were: Mike Cobbs and Kelly Johnson, D-6; Danita Swanson, R-4; and Cherry Malone-Marshall, D-1.

Cobbs, a former U.S. Marine, noted during the discussion prior to the vote he had concerns about the amount of money being spent. The City of Kankakee is not being asked to fund any portion of this project.

Swanson also expressed concern about the price tag for the development. Johnson had previously raised the same issue.

After the meeting, Curtis said he had anticipated he might be called upon to cast the deciding vote.

“I know people had good reasons for the which way they voted,” he said. “It is my hope that our neighboring communities are watching and noting we are taking the lead on veteran homelessness. It’s time for other communities to step up and help end homelessness. This is not just a city [of Kankakee] problem.”

The property has been vacant for more than a year. It had previously been used by Senesac Funeral Home & Cremation and most recently an off-site residence for troubled young men.

Many veterans and supporters of veterans were in attendance at the council meeting. Curtis had the veterans lead the council in the reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the meeting.

After they returned to their seats, many addressed the council during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“No one is left behind,” said David McCleery, of Kankakee, who works with the Kankakee County Veterans Assistance Commission in downtown Kankakee. He noted the plight of the homeless vets.

“Homeless vets should be a major problem for all Americans,” he said. “... We will not leave them behind. They served us. Now let us serve them.”

Karen Smietanski, assistant superintendent for the VAC, noted it is actually less expensive for taxpayers to house chronically homeless vets than let them live on the street.

“Saying ‘yes’ shows fiscal responsibility,” she said.

To be eligible to stay at the home, the veteran must be income restricted. The income guideline states they cannot be earning more than 30 percent of the area’s median income, in this case that would equate to yearly income of less than $15,000.

Jim Wasser, one of the region’s most outspoken veterans, simply noted, “Vets are not asking for a handout. They are asking for a hand up.”

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