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Daily Journal
     August 11, 2022      #33-223 KDJ
 

Fortitude makes case in 4th Ward

By Lee Provost
lprovost@daily-journal.com


KANKAKEE — Facing opposition to its proposed homeless shelter in Kankakee’s 4th Ward, leadership of Fortitude Community Outreach took its case directly to the ward.

On a cool Tuesday evening in McBroom Park, Fortitude’s Dawn Broers, the organization’s executive director, fielded questions from a group of about 35 people — a significant portion of whom appeared to favor the shelter locating in the former United Faith Pentecostal Church, 1284 S. Fourth Ave.

And Broers made one point clear to those at the gathering: if Fortitude does not gain a conditional use permit to operate its shelter on South Fourth, there will be no shelter program this winter.

 “There is no Plan C,” she again stated.

What that means, Broers explained, is if this request does not gain approval, the projected 30-bed shelter will not be available this winter and since there is no other shelter program in Kankakee County, the homeless will be on their own.

Since the program is seeking to locate outside of the center of the city, Broers was asked if she would consider locations outside of Kankakee, meaning perhaps Bradley or Bourbonnais.

She is not.

“The homeless are here. Kankakee is where we need to be.”

Fortitude will be presenting its plans to the Kankakee Planning Board at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Kankakee City Council chambers. The group is seeking the needed zoning change and conditional use permit to operate the shelter on South Fourth.

The two requests will also need to be heard and approved by the Kankakee City Council before anything can take place on the site.

The Fortitude shelter season normally is conducted from Oct. 1 through May 1. If all goes as planned by Fortitude, this year’s shelter season would begin Nov. 1 at the earliest as time would be needed to prepare the new site.

IS AN EXTENSION POSSIBLE?

One Kankakee elected official attended the approximate one-hour question-and-answer session and that was 4th Ward Alderman Lance Marczak. Marczak did not talk during the program.

After the meeting, Marczak stated he would like Fortitude to consider staying at the downtown Kankakee site — in the former St. Paul’s Lutheran School building — for a second year due to factors which have plagued the shelter program in securing an alternative site.

Marczak was mainly speaking of the skyrocketing costs of building materials which forced Fortitude to abandon its plans to build a shelter location on donated vacant property in the 200 block of North Entrance Avenue.

Broers has repeatedly stated a second year at St. Paul’s is not an option as the council was clear last year that the 2021-22 shelter season would be the final one allowed there.

She has not discussed an extension at the location.

Marczak also noted the program could return to its rotating shelter schedule it used during its first few years of operation.

“Due to time constraints, I think these are options which could be implemented. We obviously need to shelter people, whether that be using the rotating shelter or a second year at St. Paul’s,” he said.

Fortitude has shelved the North Entrance project. Broers noted the shelter was to be built on donated property, but the planned cost of $550,000 to $575,000 ballooned to $1.2 million, mainly as a result of the spiking costs of building materials.

She noted no matter how the group and their general contractor worked to reduce the cost, it became far too expensive.

Broers noted the only way that project could move forward is if Fortitude received financial assistance from the governmental bodies of the city of Kankakee and Kankakee County.

FACING OPPOSITION

The issue with placing a homeless shelter, Broers explained Tuesday, is there will always be opposition.

The 4th Ward site is no exception. At the Aug. 1 Kankakee City Council meeting, ward resident Larry Enz presented a petition signed by more than 90 residents in the immediate area of the proposed site for the shelter who were against this development.

Fortitude leadership, Broers noted, has been knocking on 4th Ward doors for the past week and has a petition signed by more than 120 ward residents in support. She said there is also an online petition signed by 230 Kankakee County residents supporting this move.

“We expect opposition. It’s just a normal thing,” she said of placing a shelter. “We have to be located somewhere.”

She said the common misconception of the homeless is they are to be feared. She said that is simply not the case.

She said 60 percent of homeless people are employed. For a variety of reasons, however, they are not able to maintain their own residence.

Broers noted some Fortitude residents take shelter only once and they never return, most likely because they found other living arrangements.

Some are occasional visitors. But one thing is clear, she noted: the homeless seeking shelter do not need to be feared. She said they are simply looking for a place to lay their head.

“The homeless are here, Broers said. “There is not one ward that does not have homeless in it.”

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