The Rev. Greg Schiller searched Chicago last spring, hoping to find one of the guests who had spent nights last winter at the Matthew 25:40 Ministries shelter in downtown Elgin.
The young woman, who seemed to disappear from the Elgin streets she had been living on, had a court date in Cook County. Schiller hoped they would be able to find her — and bring her home to Elgin — when she arrived. She didn’t show to the court date. Her father started putting up “missing” fliers at area bus stops and train stations, hoping someone could find her.
Kimberly Takahashi, 21, said she went home April 13, and got a hotel room for a week with her father while she went through withdrawal from her heroin addiction. Takahashi — with support from Schiller and the ministry — then went into rehab.
Now, almost a year later, Takahashi is a regular volunteer at overnight warming shelter at the First United Methodist Church, 216 E. Highland Ave. She is taking classes at Elgin Community College, and says she is living, clean, with her family again.
The shelter is in its second year of providing an overnight warming — and sleeping — location during the winter months.
Named after the Biblical passage of “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” the ministry was started by a parishioner at First Methodist. Zoning was obtained from the city of Elgin to allow homeless to sleep in the church basement overnight, and only in cases of extreme cold.
There is a permanent shelter — PADS of Elgin —on the west side near Elgin Community College. But that shelter’s rules keep out some people, including those who are convicted of sex offenses and those who are drunk or actively using drugs. Schiller said the shelter he runs with help from Tammy Wheatley provides for those who aren’t allowed to stay at PADS.
“I have just three rules: don’t bring your booze, don’t bring your drugs, and no fighting,” Schiller said.
He does kick out guests who break those rules, Schiller said.
Schiller doesn’t take his rules lightly. One man has been kicked out twice for attempting to sneak in alcohol. The clients can come and go as they please — outside to smoke the stairwell, or leave and come back — as long as nothing happens inside.
Not everyone comes in drunk, or high, or with sex offender status. Some, for whatever reason, chose the downtown shelter that is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when overnight lows are expected to dip to 10 degrees or below, he said.
So far this winter season, the shelter has been open only a handful of nights — New Years Eve, Jan. 5-10, and Jan. 12-14. The shelter reopened last week after the big snow storm.
It typically attracts about 30 people — both men and women — on those nights.
Last year the numbers were similar, but the season was longer with many more frigid colds. “We missed one week, total,” last year, he said.
“They don’t have anywhere to go,” to stay out of the cold, Schiller said. If not for the shelter, they would be in parking garages, tents, or overpasses “anywhere they can get out of the weather,” he said.
There is food available — snacks or even hot food. On the Monday nights when the church serves as a soup kitchen for those in need, that ministry often makes extra so the overnight guests have something for later, Schiller said.
The faces between last winter and this aren’t necessarily the same, he added.
Takahashi is one of those familiar faces, but for a different reason. Stories like hers are the ones that make the long nights — he stays awake for the entire 12-hour duration — worth it, Schiller said.
When Takahashi finally came back to Elgin, she had hit her bottom. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” she said.
“This place meant a lot to me,” when she was on the streets with a boyfriend who was also addicted to heroin. “If not for this place I wouldn’t be here today, with the way things were,” Takahashi said.
She isn’t the first person the ministry has gotten into a rehab center, Schiller said. “We will transport people to rehab if they really want the help,” he said.
Still, with two shelters serving area homeless, Schiller believes there are more out there on Elgin streets, uncounted and not coming in out of the cold. He and other volunteers have traveled to known homeless camps and invited people rides to come in.
Sometimes, it works. Others just don’t want to be around other people.
For more information, the ministry’s Facebook page is: http://www.facebook.com/mat2540ministries. To volunteer or for donations, it may also be reached at 224-230-3795.
Please feel free to read Janelle Walker’s article from the Elgin Courier-News by clicking on the following link: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/elgin-courier-news/news/ct-ecn-homeless-st-0203-20150209-story.html