Debate held over homeless shelter at church

PARK RIDGE A pastor in Park Ridge wants to provide shelter at his church. But opponents say they're worried about the safety of children who attend school there.

Park Ridge city council meetings are usually sparsely attended. But the issue of whether to allow a part-time homeless shelter at a downtown church has clearly struck a nerve and brought out a crowd.

"A shelter in Park Ridge would bring in homeless people from Chicago and other areas, and that is not why we decided to move to Park Ridge," said Matt Par, in opposition to the shelter.

"There's no reason for our city to get into the business of running a church. The intended use of the church encompasses only one day a week," said shelter supporter Ignacio Maramba.

The pastor of St. Paul at the Cross has invited a homeless agency to set up shop one night a week in the church gymnasium. That brought support from some who see it as their Christian responsibility, but opposition from others who worry it might bring a criminal element to town.

"St. Paul at the Cross has been helping the homeless for years," said Adrienne Kimm, St. Paul at the Cross Church. "This just kind of seems like the next, natural step."

James Olson and Mark Lee survive in Park Ridge selling "Streetwise." Most nights they find a place to sleep outside. They say they'd happily sleep at the shelter. But even they worry about some of the others it would attract.

"If they do put a shelter in, it would be a good thing, but then, you know, it might be a bad thing all at the same time. But I wouldn't have a problem with it. I would love to sleep on a mat instead of concrete," Olson said.

City council members were expected to decide whether to send this issue to their planning and zoning officials. The church officials say they believe they should be allowed to decide on their own what to do with their building. It may be some time before the city council lets them.

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