Marie Newman (at left), Democratic nominee for the 3rd Congressional district, discusses aspects of the new BEDS Plus Care consolidated shelter in Oak Lawn with Tina Rounds, executive director of BEDS Plus.
By Joe Boyle
Providing shelter and support for individuals who are homeless or dealing with poverty and other issues during the middle of a pandemic is not an easy feat.
However, representatives of BEDS Plus Care said on Friday that they are doing everything possible to reach out to individuals who have nowhere else to turn.
BEDS Plus has provided shelter and services for the homeless in the southwest suburbs. Locations have been offered in the past at St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Worth and Pilgrim Faith United Church of Christ in Oak Lawn.
But with COVID-19 spreading, BEDS Plus representatives knew that more needed to be done.
"The health and safety of volunteers, clients and employees is always a top priority for BEDS, and never more so than now," said Valerie Vedral, communications specialist for BEDS Plus. "Leadership is closely monitoring the evolving status of the coronavirus and its potential impact on the shelter operations that serve the most vulnerable members of our communities."
In mid-March, BEDS Plus consolidated operations at a Brookfield location to better cope with the virus. At that time, the organization was not operating out of any locations in Oak Lawn.
However, BEDS Plus did begin operating out of a site in Oak Lawn in late April. The location is being kept confidential to provide privacy for the clients, Vedral said.
The Oak Lawn shelter models the BEDS consolidated facility in Brookfield and is operating in partnership with Respond Now, which has been helping families combat hunger and housing issues since September 1969. About 15 clients are currently staying at the Oak Lawn shelter, taking an active role in maintaining the site and helping out with daily chores, Vedral said.
"The clients stay in these locations in a lockdown situation," Vedral said due to the coronavirus. "We don't want them wandering in and out. We want to keep them safe and residents of the community safe."
BEDS Plus officials also works with representatives of Pillars Community Health, which has a local facility at 8020 W. 87th St., in Hickory Hills. Pillars serves communities in the southwest and western suburbs, and Chicago neighborhoods near Midway Airport. Pillars provides services for victims of domestic abuse and is also a drug rehabilitation center.
"No one has tested positive for COVID-19 and no one has had any symptoms of the virus," Vedral said as of Friday.
Marie Newman, who defeated Cong. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) in the March primary, took a tour of the BEDS Plus Care's newly consolidated shelter in Oak Lawn last week. She had an opportunity to get an in-person look at the shelter operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She was accompanied on the tour by Tina Rounds, executive director of BEDS, and Christina Lindstrom, housing program manager at Respond Now. Rounds talked with Newman about the organization's COVID-19 response, how the consolidated shelters operate, volunteer needs and affordable housing. All three wore masks as they took part in the tour.
Rounds has been pivotal in the development of BEDS Plus. She helped acquire two subsidiary entities including a transitional housing program. She has also organized an 11-site shelter program. Several of those locations are in the southwest suburbs.
Operations for BEDS Plus began in LaGrange. Rounds has played a vital role in the development of the organization in her eight years there. She successfully transitioned a small community-based nonprofit organization to a regional leader in safety net service delivery. She also helped to secure $6.8 million in financing and oversaw construction of 20-unit permanent housing developments in LaGrange. She developed partnerships and funding for over 100 units of permanent supportive housing.
Vedral said that BEDS Plus not only assists the homeless, but other individuals who are going through difficult periods in their lives. These include veterans, domestic violence survivors, people with chronic health conditions, behavioral health conditions, or people with disabilities.
"The ongoing pandemic puts BEDS clients at increased risk and will lead to more people becoming homeless from reduced work hours and layoffs," Vedral said.
Five individuals and two families recently moved from shelter to housing since the emergency response to COVID-19. This means BEDS can accept new homeless clients who are symptom free. BEDS is working with Pillars Community Health to screen current shelter clients, screen any new arrivals and monitor any symptomatic motel clients, Vedral said.
"BEDS anticipates continuing current emergency policies and activities through the end of May," Vedral said. "The budget for these expenses is fast approaching $300,000, primarily motel costs at $70 a night and staff overtime."
Information about the BEDS Plus response to COVID-19 is available at www.beds-plus.org.