DuPage PADS—Ending homelessness by restoring lives

February 2012 View more

NMAG0212_NeighborhoodCarol Simler is a woman on a mission. As the executive director of DuPage PADS, her mission for the past 14 years has been to end homelessness in DuPage County.

“I believe that I take for granted the support systems I have in my life. At times we all do—things like my faith community and my family,” Simler explains. “What always strikes and intrigues me is the number of people without these types of support. People are living such fragile lives.” Simler’s passion is helping DuPage PADS grow into the support system that the homeless population needs.

There are a variety of reasons a person may become homeless: Mental illness, substance abuse, and fleeing from trauma are common causes. In this economy, however, loss of income has become the major factor. Over the past couple of years, DuPage PADS has seen a dramatic increase in the number of families and children who are homeless. Even on the federal level the definition of being homeless has changed to now include families. For Simler, this makes the need of ending the cycle of homelessness even more pressing.

Housing + Support + Employment = Self-Sufficiency

“We have shifted our focus from managing a crisis to ending homelessness entirely. While it’s a simple statement, it’s a very complex process,” Simler explains. PADS operates the largest network of interim (overnight) housing sites in DuPage County. Its permanent supportive housing program provides 64 affordable apartments and support services for individuals and families who are chronically homeless.

Because ending homelessness requires more than just providing clients with food and shelter, DuPage PADS also offers social support services and helps clients with job seeking skills. Additionally, the agency partners with over 50 health, legal, and social service agencies—as well as the College of DuPage and Literacy DuPage— to offer on-site GED classes. “We’ve built our agency around empowering clients to make a real change in their lives.”

Learning From Those They Serve

“We are a learning organization, so we have the luxury of changing to meet our clients’ needs,” Simler explains. “We don’t do anything without consulting the people we are serving.” She welcomes client input through focus groups and client satisfaction surveys. “We are very strategic about what we are doing. We make smart, educated decisions in order to have the best possible impact for the dollars we receive.”

Strong Naperville Ties

The Naperville community plays a pivotal role in supporting the mission of DuPage PADS. In addition to the 64-unit apartment located in Naperville, four churches in Naperville provide interim (overnight) housing for the homeless. PADS also has several Naperville residents on its board of directors and countless volunteers. In 2002, the Naperville Chamber of Commerce named DuPage PADS “Non-Profit of the Year” and the agency has been winning awards ever since. “This is a real testament to the Naperville community and all its support,” Simler explains. “From the mayor on down, Naperville has been very supportive of us.”

Prior to working at DuPage PADS, Simler worked at Catholic Charities in Joliet where, among other things, she assisted parishes in the seven-county area develop their social ministry programs. She also instituted back-to-school fairs for low-income families. Simler earned her Masters in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

 Joining the Mission

For information on how to help DuPage PADS end the cycle of homelessness, visit www.dupagepads.org. Upcoming fundraising opportunities include:

• The 6th Annual Taste Of Hope will be held on March 8 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Abbington Banquets in Glen Ellyn. Guests can sample signature dishes from 25 high-end area restaurants, in addition to participating in live and silent auctions.

• If you’re looking for some family fun, PADS will sponsor its 10th Annual Bowl-A-Rama at Fox Bowl in Wheaton on April 21 from noon to 3 p.m.

Photo by Robyn Sheldon