LA GRANGE – La Grange residents who said they wanted a "Mayberry"-style town, questioned the appropriateness of a homeless program in their neighborhood at Monday night's village board meeting.
The discussion was sparked by a village homelessness study and the impact of the village's overnight shelters and daytime counselling services provided to those in need. The village of La Grange conducted the study after residents expressed concern over the BEDS Plus daytime program, according to Village President Tom Livingston.
The issues, explained by residents at the meeting, included the safety of young children walking to and from school, possible illegal activities occurring near the La Grange Public Library, residents safety during hours the BEDS Plus program operates.
The BEDS Plus program – run by Emmanuel Episcopal Church – operates year round at the church, located at 203 S. Kensington Ave. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, the program offers people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, support services and counseling.
Individuals with outstanding warrants or who are registered sex offenders with the state are not admitted into BEDS Plus, BEDS Plus officials said.
BEDS – the organization which BEDS Plus stems from – has been in La Grange for 25 years. The nonprofit's mission is to serve the homeless by providing shelter, food and casework.
One resident said her main issue was with the BEDS Plus program, not with the organization itself.
"We are for [finding] an appropriate location for providing these services," Caroline Dillon said. " ... Certainly our village, with its talented energy and capacity to give, can come up with a solution to solve everyone's needs."
BEDS Plus Executive Director Tina Rounds said the group cares about being a good neighbor in the community.
"We may or may not be ideally placed today," Rounds said. "However, we affirm our right to operate within a supportive community church near a city center."
Local police officers meet weekly with BEDS Plus representatives to exchange information on the program's participants and about circumstances that might need special attention from the department, Livingston said.
In 2013, the police department responded to 15,961 calls for service in La Grange, according to Livingston. He said of those calls, about 30 or 35 – or 0.002 percent – were related to homelessness issues.
"The reports have shown that BEDS Plus clients are not the ones committing the crimes in La Grange," Rounds said. "They're the people who need our help."
Initiatives set by the village:
1. Public Safety: A new police officer or beat will be developed to include a focus on the village's already existing anti-loitering law. The new beat, effective May 1, will concentrate on public areas such as the library, downtown, Cossitt School grounds and nearby shelters.
2.Data Collection: Although being homeless is not a crime, the village will begin flagging incident reports involving the homeless. Police Chief Michael Holub directed the La Grange Police Department to provide him directly with those reports.
3. Active Collaboration: The village will actively assist BEDS Plus in its search to expand the daytime services to other possible locations other than at Emmanuel Episcopal's facility.
4. Voluntary Limits: While the studies and conversations continue, BEDS volunteered to limit the number of clients it sees each day – during the four-hour daytime program – to 40 people maximum, with no more than 30 people at the location at a time. The limit will go into effect May 1.
5. Evaluation: At an Oct. 13 board meeting this year, the village of La Grange will provide a status update reviewing the May 1 through Sept. 30 data it has gathered.