“I’m not sure how to just walk up here and say, ‘Hi, I was homeless.’”
The is how Dawn Bychowski of Minooka began Thursday evening to tell her story of homelessness – and answer questions about it – to those present for the PADS volunteer appreciation program.
The local Public Action to Deliver Shelter earlier this month completed its season of offering overnight shelter and nourishment to the area’s homeless.
Bychowski told the story of working as a CNA and her father’s decision that she needed “tough love.”
“It wasn’t like I was uneducated,” she said. “My father thought I needed a lesson. That’s not what I got out there on the streets though.”
Her time on the streets was an emotional roller coaster, searching each day for a place to lay her head and a way to eat.
“Once you get labeled as homeless, you don’t get to just sit anywhere,” Bychowski said. “Even if you have money for coffee, they don’t just let you sit there.”
She was saved when she hurt her knee and went to a hospital, where they found out she was homeless.
“There had been an early frost and someone froze to the ground and no one came to help,” she said. “I was scared. I didn’t want it happening to me. Not in my 20’s.”
A doctor in the emergency room admitted her to the psychiatric ward, where she at least had a warm bed at night.
From the hospital, Bychowski was admitted to a psychiatric nursing home, where she started her slow road back.
“I have a dual diagnosis,” she said. “I have physical and mental illness.”
She went in and out of nursing homes before her stepfather let her move into his home in Minooka, where she currently lives.
When Ellen Hanson asked Bychowski what should be found in a good homeless shelter, Bychowski said that, aside from a place to sleep, a place to clean up was important.
“A place to wash up – not just your hands and face – is as important as getting something to eat,” she said. “Also, as much as we appreciate what you do, we want to help out.”
Even if it is just helping hand out towels or food, the importance of feeling like a responsible individual, Bychowski said, is needed for their spirit.
“It’s hard to come off the street; I saw so much,” she said. “But everyone wants to come home sometime.”
She made it clear that listening to what the homeless have to say plays a big part, too. After all, she said, they are shunned all day long and often no one speaks to them.
“We can send boys and girls to help others in other countries, but we have a need in our own backyard,” she said. “Kids are homeless and going hungry.”
PADS served 75 different guests this year, including men, women, and children.
“Who knew Morris had 75 homeless people?” Todd Thomson, the PADS president, asked.
There were 1,210 overnight stays among the 75 people during the six months the shelters were open in local churches.
“Over the past month, we have been averaging 10 people a night,” he said.
In addition to the overnight shelter, PADS also offers meals each Monday night in Coal City, and every Thursday night in Morris, through the St. Vincent’s Table program.
Coal City has been serving about 70 people each week, while Morris has been averaging around 30 to 35 each week for the last couple of months.
The Morris numbers are up from a year ago.
Thomson and Denise Gaska presented awards to the churches and groups who volunteer each week to serve meals or host an overnight shelter.
The overnight shelters are closed until next fall. The meals, however, will continue to be served each week throughout the summer.