O’Grady slams Pekau over homeless shelter

O’Grady slams Pekau over homeless shelter
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O’Grady slams Pekau over homeless shelter

By Ray Hanania

Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady criticized Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau Monday over the mayor’s refusal to permit Hope Covenant Church to operate a one-day each week shelter for homeless.

O’Grady, who oversees Township services that assist families and individuals in need as well as senior citizens and the disabled, cited the extreme cold weather this week in noting the “heavy handed” decision to try to block the shelter from operating.

Pekau ordered the Village attorneys to seek an injunction to block the shelter from operating asserting that its plans to offer overnight boarding for homeless individuals violates safety features. But Hope Covenant Church Pastor Jon Fogel called Pekau’s effort to use the courts to block the plans an “immoral and unprompted vendetta” and waste of taxpayer money.

Orland Township supervisor Paul O'Grady

Orland Township supervisor Paul O’Grady

In his statement released Monday, O’Grady agreed.

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“The Village has decided to use our tax dollars on expensive litigation as a first resort and not a last resort. As a lawyer, I have learned over the years that sitting down and trying to work out a solution is much better than resorting to litigation,” O’Grady said.

“Here, the Village has rushed into Court and not negotiated in “good faith” according to Pastor Jon Fogel. I think this reflects poorly on the Village and sets a dangerous precedent for other groups who might want to host an overnight event at a local church.”

Hope Covenant Church, 14401 West Avenue, opened the one-day each week on Tuesday homeless shelter in September, hosting 34 individuals during their 3rd week of running the shelter and 50 this week. Pastor Fogel said that he has attempted to speak with Pekau and the Village about the shelter since April but they “refused” to meet with them. He called Pekau’s efforts to block the homeless shelter “a total and complete injustice,” posting video updates on the church’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/OrlandHope.

Hope Covenant Church, 14401 West Avenue, Orland Park, IL. Photo courtesy of Facebook

Hope Covenant Church, 14401 West Avenue, Orland Park, IL. Photo courtesy of Facebook

The Village and Church went to court on Friday appearing but the judge did not rule Friday on the restraining order request to block the homeless shelter.

Pekau has said in a press release, that was later removed from the Village of Orland Park website, that the church had more than 28 health and safety code violations asking the church to suspend the homeless shelter “until the fundamental safety issues can be addressed for the intended use and the building is brought into full compliance.”

O’Grady praised Fogel and Hope Covenant Church for opening the shelter in partnership with Beds Plus Care which was founded in 1988 in LaGrange to help “ease the distress of homeless people” in their area” but has expanded to assist other communities to provide shelter for homeless individuals and families.

Fogel and the church have been updating their efforts on their Facebook Page, posting this update on their efforts responding to Pekau’s legal assault.

“Pastor Jon is on his way downtown right now to fight a Tax-Payer founded temporary restraining order which would force the 50 homeless members of our community (including some children as young as 2 years old) to sleep outside on Tuesday night when it is forecasted to be a HIGH of 21 degrees. We were made aware at 5:00 yesterday the village would be taking their immoral and unprompted vendetta to court costing you, the tax payer, TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars rather than simply meet with the church (which the mayor has to this point been unwilling to do since APRIL) and allow us to bring our building up to their specifications.”

Here is the letter Orland Township Supervisor Paul O’Grady release on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The letter is posted on Supervisor O’Grady’s Facebook Page at Facebook.com/SupervisorOGrady

For the last few days, I have been following the media coverage of the actions taken by the Village of Orland Park against Hope Covenant Church and its Pastor, Jon Fogel. I know there are two sides to every story, but here, overzealous tactics taken by the Village appears to be heavy handed in dealing with Hope Covenants’ Church’s decision to open a one night a week shelter for the homeless. I think we all can agree, that any facility housing people overnight needs to meet certain safety requirements.

However, as a community, we have to be willing to work with and in certain circumstances, make accommodations for, those in our community that are trying to help others. For example, if a Church were hosting a Boy Scout Troop overnight stay would the Village behave in the same manner? I would hope not. Remember, the Village has decided to use our tax dollars on expensive litigation as a first resort and not a last resort. As a lawyer, I have learned over the years that sitting down and trying to work out a solution is much better than resorting to litigation. Here, the Village has rushed into Court and not negotiated in “good faith” according to Pastor Jon Fogel. I think this reflects poorly on the Village and sets a dangerous precedent for other groups who might want to host an overnight event at a local church.

As Orland Township Supervisor I instructed my staff to reach out to Hope Covenant Church to offer our assistance including making sure the people they serve know about The Orland Township Food Pantry which currently assists approximately 300 Orland Township families each and every month. Further, over the years we have worked with many homeless people that are right here in Orland Park and have given them assistance. I don’t think we can rely on Mayor Pekau’s own observation to determine whether there are homeless or others in need here in Orland Park as my own experience proves otherwise.

I just saw the weather report for today, November 11, 2019, it is going down to 15 degrees and some areas might get up to six inches of snow. In my opinion, under these circumstances, as a community we should be trying to work with Hope Covenant Church, not hiring lawyers to run into Court to obtain Restraining Orders. I would like to remind everyone that the Orland Township building is a warming shelter and when the building is open, so are the doors to ALL Township residents that need assistance.

Ray Hanania

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