Male guests prepare for bed in the Interfaith Community Public Action Providing Shelter (PADS) on Nov. 30. The Michigan City PADS program now operates year round after they purchased and renovated the former Sacred Heart Church in Michigan City. Men stay on the main floor, while women stay on the lower floor. (Bob Wellinski photo)
Sarah Quartuccio personally knows the sad reality of homelessness and the effect it can have on those who call the streets home.
“I had somebody in my family who was homeless. He slept on the streets and was eventually found deceased after a winter storm. I know the impact it can have on a family,” said Quartuccio, a parishioner at St. Mary the Immaculate Conception in Michigan City.
With the cold winter months beginning, 35-year-old Quartuccio is one of many volunteers who are stepping up to help at multi-faith homeless centers, including one which recently opened in LaPorte County.
The former Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Michigan City now has new life and continues its ministry in serving the community.
The parish celebrated its final Mass on Easter Sunday in 2019. The building was then purchased by Interfaith Community Public Action Providing Shelter (PADS) later that year.
Following a nearly yearlong, $300,000 renovation, the former church is now a permanent home to the PADS program. The permanent site allows them to serve the needs of the homeless, for both men and women, year-round, according to Harrison Holtkamp, PADS executive director.
Previously, PADS was seasonal, but now they are able to operate year-round.
This is the 19th year for the men’s program and third year for women. Holtkamp estimates PADS has 170-200 guests a year.
He explained the men stay on the main floor, while the women stay in the lower section.
“It makes it nice to be at one location. People are not getting lost trying to figure out what church we’re at. Plus, the bus stop is right across the street,” he said.
The renovation was the result of a successful fundraising effort, in which Holtkamp expressed gratitude towards all who contributed, including the Healthcare Foundation of LaPorte, Arconic Foundation, The Barker Welfare Foundation, Unity Foundation, and many other private and public donors.
Phase one of the renovation is nearly complete. Holtkamp stated phase one renovations included fire suppress system, dumb waiter, update an old kitchen into a newer commercial kitchen, adding a walk-in freezer, creating new bathrooms with showers upstairs and down, making the facility handicap accessible including widening the lower level stairwell and adding a chairlift, and adding laundry equipment.
“The building is continuing the mission of what it started doing. It’s always had an outreach in the community, and we’re continuing that mission,” said Holtkamp.
With the success in serving the homeless, the Michigan City Interfaith Community PADS has served as an example for other communities to start their own interfaith PADS program, including the city of LaPorte.
Rev. Joe Kotulski, of Liberty Bible Church, stated it was time for action after he witnessed something shocking outside the church he was speaking in.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw, an actual person who was living outside the walls of this building. Literally sleeping with their back against the brick outside in the bitter cold,” remarked Kotulski.
Kotulski and Center Township Trustee Lisa Pierzakowski were determined to make sure a shelter was available for those without a roof over their head.
The same wall of the Christ Church in downtown LaPorte that Kotulski witnessed the homeless man is once again LaPorte PADS temporary home for the second year.
“As Center Township trustee, I see the homelessness coming into my office all the time, and this will help me give them a roof over their head until I can get them to the next level. It breaks my heart, but this way they have a warm bed and a hot meal,” said Pierzakowski.
She explained, “PADS is a platform for them to leap to the next great level in their lives.”
Holtkamp, Pierzakowski and Kotulski said PADS assists guests through various programs to help get them back on their feet. Some of the programs include working with the guests with getting their GED or college classes, helping them battle substance abuse, budgeting, cooking classes to name a few.
One new program to the LaPorte PADS is the addition of a mentorship encourager. Pierzakowski explained a guest will be paired with a person with “heart, passion, and time and is willing to help our guests by walking alongside them during their journey.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the PADS program resulting in guests being tested prior to being admitted. Other safety measures include temperatures taken at the door, wearing masks, hand sanitizer, hourly cleaning and sterilizing the facility every day.
For guests who test positive, they are sent to a safe recovery site in Valparaiso to quarantine until they’re clear of the virus.
“We cannot help people just because they might be sick. If you look at the examples of Christians throughout the ages, they were the ones who ran towards the sick and hurting people. That’s what we should be known for,” said Kotulski.
Holtkamp, Pierzakowski and Kotulski stress volunteers from community churches, businesses and the public are the heart of the PADS program and its success.
“The volunteer is vital. I think we all get something out of it - the guests, the volunteers,” said Holtkamp.
“It’s something that I never really thought I would do. Now that I’ve been volunteering since June, I’m glad that I am doing it,” confessed Quartuccio.
Her recommendation to those considering volunteering - “Do it.”
She added, “I appreciate what PADS is doing for the community,” said Quartuccio, who believes a shelter would have saved her family member’s life back in 2009. “I really think it would have helped him get the help he needed.”
One guest, who asked to remain anonymous, credits the PADS program for potentially saving his life.
He explained how he lost everything and was living out of his car in the middle of winter when someone suggested the PADS.
“Everyone was so fabulous. It struck me how all these wonderful people volunteered their time. I’m sure they saved my life.”
Anyone interested in volunteering is encouraged to contact the Michigan City PADS at 276-7582 or interfaithcommunitypads.in/ifcpwpr48; or the LaPorte PADS at 362-2736 or www.bit.ly/lppads2020.