Respite Center Becomes Essential Space For Neighbors In Need
Niles Township’s Respite Center recently marked its first six months inside St. Paul Lutheran Church in Skokie. Since September, the new center has provided badly needed go-to space for our homeless population during day-time hours.
The Respite Center opened in September and has come a long way in a relatively short time. Nearly two dozen people now use the center, a welcoming place for the homeless to wash clothes, take a shower, rest, talk to a social worker or just take a breather.
We continue to learn more about the needs of our housing insecure clients and make adjustments when necessary. Those who visit the center are first vetted by Niles Township social workers and never stay overnight.
The development of a Respite Center began when the Township recognized an existing need. In one instance, a young man came to the Township with his belongings in bags and was trying to get a bus pass to travel to a space in Northbrook. There, he could take a shower, get a meal, talk to a social worker and be treated with respect.
Recognizing there was no such space in the township, Niles Township Supervisor Bonnie Kahn Ognisanti reached out. St. Paul Lutheran Church agreed to partner with the Township — providing rent-free space for a new center run by the Township.
St. Paul was one of many compassionate community partners that have helped make the Respite Center thrive. The space has become a dependable source of comfort and assistance for our homeless population, enhanced by donations from organizations and individuals who stepped up when it mattered most.
It is the Township’s hope that the Respite Center not only provides a needed break for those in need, but also improves their day-to-day circumstances. We’re already seeing results: two of our clients have secured housing and one got a job, which likely would not have happened without the center.
We look forward to more success stories coming from the Respite Center well beyond the next six months of existence.
Compassionate, dependable and always a helpful resource for our housing insecure residents, the leadership team at Niles Township’s Respite Center is a big reason for its rapid success.
The latest addition, Charlie Biggins, oversees the center, working alongside social worker Jennifer Lamantia. They make a formidable team.
Charlie served as Lisle Township Food Pantry Director for eight years prior to coming to the Respite Center. (His mother was one of the community members who started the food pantry).
In his first year internship as a graduate student, he worked with the Chicago Coalition For the Homeless in a community homeless shelter in Lincoln Park. He later interned as a school social worker at Mather High School and even coached high school and junior college football.
All of this experience mattered. All of it has been useful for the job he now inherits.
“There definitely is a huge social work piece to being in a Food Pantry every day,” Charlie said about his last job. “So many clients disclose to you issues they’re going through and hurdles they’re trying to overcome. That’s what social work is — being a facilitator.”
Both he and Jenny are deepening bonds with those who visit the Respite Center throughout the week. They provide solutions to real problems, but they’re also there just to lend an ear or a hand to community neighbors in need.
Charlie and Jenny know first-hand that the Respite Center fills what was a real hole in our community.
“These individuals need a place to rest,” Charlie said. “They’re riding a train all night, they’re really not sleeping. They’re either worried about their personal safety or they’re not having high quality sleep let alone quality meals, or just having someone to talk to. We’re now happy to be here for them.”