Niles Human Service departments review accomplishments, challenges

Niles Human Services building, home to the Niles Family Services, Niles Senior Center and the Niles Fitness Center.

Niles Human Services building, home to the Niles Family Services, Niles Senior Center and the Niles Fitness Center.

By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle

Homelessness and lack of afforable housing in the Village of Niles emerged as major concern during the April 13 Niles Human Services Committee.

Every three months, heads of the Niles Department of Family Services, Niles Fitness Center, Niles Senior Center and Niles Teen Center meet to update each other on their goals and activities, as well as major issues they are hoping to address. Tony Hollenback, the director of the Department of Family Services, reported that he was planning to talk to the Department of Community Development to see what they could do to increase low-income housing options. Homelessness has been an issue that shows no sign of abating, he said, and he hoped that it would help address the situation.

As Hollenback later told the Bugle, he hopes that more affordable housing would address two issues – provide options for people who are already homeless and keep the people who may have trouble keeping their homes from becoming homeless. As he saw it, it make more sense to try to help people keep their homes than to wait until they lose it, because helping a homeless person is more expensive and requires more resources.

Hollenback also said that the number of homeless individuals has been increasing – something that, he said, doesn’t get much attention because homelessness isn’t seen as a suburban issue.

During the April 13 meeting, he told the committee that the issue is going to become especially acute during the summer. His department has teamed up with Journeys | The Road Home, a Palatine-based non-profit agency that provides social services for the homeless. From Oct. 1 to April 30, it works with faith organizations in 37 towns to give their clients a place to stay. When a person shows up at Family Services looking for a place to stay, the department gives them some food and hygiene supplies, and pays for their cab fare to whichever site is available.

With the network shutting down for the summer, Hollenback plans to send clients to the Chicago Department of Human Services, which is dealing with its own caseload.

Another issue that Hollenback has been dealing with is getting a regular supply of donations to the Niles Family Services food pantry. As previously reported by the Bugle, donations tend to taper off in the warmer months. While he has worked with Jewel Osco’s Dempster Plaza location to set up regular donations, he wants to get donations from other local grocery stores, such as Fresh Farms, Mariano’s.

Making sure that donations from other stores are steady has been a challenge, Hollenback explained.

“The Whole Foods in Park ridge has been hit and miss,” he said, explaining that staffing changes at that location may be the reason why.

Holleback added that local schools have been very supportive, signaling out Mark Twain Elementary School as a major example. And even though Mejier closed its Niles store last year, Family Services still benefits from the gift cards it donated.

Generally speaking, Family Services has been trying to diversify pantry offerings to include ethnic foods. And, if the pantry doesn’t have certain kinds of food at the moment, staff referred clients to, depending on where they live, either Niles Township or Maine Township food pantry.

Hollenbeck said that his department has seen more clients in general.

“A lot of [social service] agencies have long waiting lists,” he said. “You can come to Family Services and get help that day.”

Other directors had some news to report as well. All four departments reported increases in attendance, with Carl Maniscalco, the Fitness Center director, reporting a particularly large increase, with the number of visitors going from 1,600 to 2,150 since June 2016.

Williams said this year the annual Teen Center lock-in will be more low-key, with festivities running from 6-10 p.m. rather than overnight, and that there would be “no DJ, no inflatables.” Maniscalco reported that the center is teaming up with Advocate Children’s Hospital to do fitness classes for children and teens.

Maniscalco also reported that families who rent out fitness center spaces for birthday parties will soon have more options to choose from.

“We realized that [the choice of] a pool party and gym party wasn’t enough for us,” he said. “Some will be crafts, some of it will be slime time.”

Maniscalco also hinted as some major change coming down the pipe.

“I can’t talk about it yet, because I haven’t had a chance to talk about it with my staff,” he said.

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