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Just weeks after the City of Waukegan suspended the license of Lake County's main resource center for the homeless, Mayor Wayne Motley has announced plans to form a task force aimed at housing the chronically homeless.

Motley had described the suspension as the result of residents and business owners complaining of panhandling, drug use and littering in the area around the PADS Lake County resource center at 1800 Grand Ave.

Motley said he has met with the executive director of PADS Lake County multiple times in the lead up to a scheduled hearing in front of the city's Development Review Board that will determine what action to take. Options include overturning the suspension, upholding it or revoking the non-profit's business license.

The hearing is currently scheduled for 2 p.m. April 26, though the mayor said the issue may be resolved without needing the hearing.

The city has to address the underlying issue if it wants things to really change, Motley said Monday evening as he announced the task force and named its co-chairs — a Lake County official who works on homelessness issues and a Waukegan resident who works with a New York City-based organization that specializes in housing the chronically homeless.

"Something has to change, " Motley said. "Something in this community has to change. It's time we stop doing the same thing over and over. When I was a policeman 40 years ago, we were doing the same thing we are now, and nothing's changed."

Lake County has been focusing too much on providing services to the homeless and not enough on getting them into long-term housing that comes with the support to ensure they are good neighbors, said John Fallon, a senior project manager with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, who was named co-chairman of the task force.

Fallon, who lives only a few blocks from the PADS Lake County resource center, said he isn't going to be one of those people calling for the center's closure.

Lake County Continuum of Care Program Coordinator Brenda O'Connell, who will join Fallon as co-chair, said PADS plays a "crucial role" as the primary referral agency for 246 beds of permanent supportive housing, 186 beds of transitional housing and about 35 units of rapid rehousing assistance.

"PADS serves as the front door to this system, " she said. "People experiencing homelessness in Lake County come with diverse service needs and varied barriers to housing. PADS is the primary coordinated entry site where staff assess those needs and connect people to the services needed to end their experience with homelessness."

But more communication and coordination needs to take place between first responders, health care providers, the county health department, landlords and the city's community development department, Fallon said. Resources should be allocated in a way to maximize the federal dollars like Medicaid reimbursements coming back to the county.

Other communities Fallon has worked with have made shifts despite concerns that the changes would lead to an influx of homeless people from other towns, something Ald. Sam Cunningham, 1st, raised as a worry Monday evening. According to Fallon, that didn't happen, and some of those communities have placed nearly all of their long-term homeless population into permanent housing.

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Source: www.chicagotribune.com
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