City officials last week ordered an Elgin, Ill., man to stop using his home to host “slumber parties” for the homeless. But this week, the city wants Greg Schiller’s help to find new ways to fill gaps in services for the homeless.
Though his suburban Chicago home remains off-limits as a temporary shelter, Schiller said the city’s new attitude about how to house people on cold nights is “like an answered prayer,” according to WMAQ-TV in Chicago.
Schiller had defended welcoming the homeless into his home as a compassionate outreach: “I would stay up all night with them and give them coffee and stuff and feed them.” He insisted he never allowed drugs or alcohol inside his residence on the freezing nights he invited the homeless in. His kindness included a cot in the warm, dorm-style basement, plus hot drinks and movies.
And Schiller came to the work with experience. He previously co-founded Matthew 25:40 Ministry, a homeless shelter outreach program at Elgin First United Methodist Church. After his resignation in 2016, Schiller began to minister to the homeless, first in his garage, and this year in his better-equipped basement.
But city officials in Elgin said Schiller’s basement didn’t meet its “sleeping regulations” code. When police officers inspected and shut down the basement “party” space last week, they cited the ceiling height as too low and the windows as too high and small to be used as an egress.
Schiller said he decided to open his basement when the wind chill factor dipped below 15 degrees and area shelters did not open. Despite his attempts to protect people in dangerously low temperatures, officials said they would refer Schiller’s house to be condemned if he resisted the order to stop hosting the homeless, which included removal of a portable toilet set up for them.
“While we appreciate those who volunteer to provide additional resources in the community, Mr. Schiller’s house does not comply with codes and regulations that guard against potential dangers such as carbon monoxide poisoning, inadequate light and ventilation, and insufficient exits in the event of a fire,” city spokeswoman Molly Center said in a statement last week.
After the showdown at Schiller’s home, the city is now helping lead the creation of new shelters and has even offered the police department lobby for people with nowhere to go, including those who have a criminal record that keeps them out of shelters.
Schiller got to know many of the city’s approximately 100 homeless people by offering them a place to stay. Although he’s stopped hosting the “slumber parties,” as he calls them, he will join forces with the city to help care for those who don’t have a home of their own.