Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
Mattoon is a perky, cute and classy city with lots of sites to indulge in. Paradise for nostalgia, this city informs tourists about a little history, but hidden among the small town charm, there’s an important site: a homeless shelter.
Mattoon is not a main tourist attraction. It’s not a getaway destination, and it’s not somewhere a Chicagoan will need to pay attention. For any human with a decent heart, seeing poverty first-hand flames a sense to urgency for help.
According to the 2010 Census, Illinois’ big boy city, Chicago, is 21.4 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In Mattoon, 17.7 percent live below the poverty line. At first glance, one may not see the tremendous problem because of the huge gap in populations between the cities, but when you connect the poor community from Mattoon to neighboring small towns from every Illinois city south of Chicago, it’s easy to to get your stomach turning at the imaginable numbers.
The problem here is that there’s so much less urgency to help the southern part of the state. A northerners misconception about the southern part of our state is that it’s a land with a plethora of corn, sometimes we forget that there’s actual people living there. People who are not that much different in living situations, dealing with the same kind of poverty experienced in the city.
Efforts to combat poverty can be found in Mattoon by looking for the Public Action to Deliver Shelter (P.A.D.S.). A relief shelter for individuals who who are experiencing homelessness and economic difficulties. This shelter not only provides a place to sleep, but also assists individuals to get back on their feet.
In small scale efforts, such as P.A.D.S., run by Paul Rilette, there is often apathy in the community for the poor and homeless. It is apparent that most well-off people living in parts where poverty is significant don’t support local efforts to end the problem.
“It’s not as big of support [from the community] as we’d like” said Rilette who often has to work multiple jobs around his shelter. “We’re understaffed.”
Although P.A.D.S. has gotten some generous donations, Rilette’s facility lacks solid local support which limits the possibilities, such as a proper staff or even a reasonable amount of space to put in people experiencing homelessness.
“We have a curtain that divides the women and children section, just a curtain. For me that’s just really difficult to handle.” Said Rilette, explaining the housing arrangements in the building.
Because of the size of the shelter and the lack of support, the facility has had to turns down many individuals, at times, even whole families.
Rilette does his best to help, but it’s clear that such a daunting task needs more support. A situation like this can easily be related to any poor neighborhood in Chicago, the only difference being that those areas get more attention because of their locations.
Situations similar to the shelter in Mattoon are actually evident through the state. If there was more encouragement to help the poor, more people, not just those around a specific community, might be more inclined to help.