He calls them “slumber parties.”
But officials in Elgin, Ill., say those “slumber parties” are actually building code violations — and now the city is threatening to condemn the suburban Chicago home if Greg Schiller doesn’t stop hosting homeless people in the basement overnight, NBC Chicago reports.
When wind chills in the Chicago suburb dip below 15 degrees (but emergency shelters aren’t open) Schiller invites homeless people over to his girlfriend’s Elgin home, he told NBC.
“I’m trying to help these people get out of the cold,” Schiller told the TV station. “There’s not a lot of help for them as far as places to lay their heads.”
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Schiller told the Chicago Tribune that hosting 10 to 15 friends in the unfinished basement qualifies as a “slumber party” under city code. He doesn’t allow alcohol or drugs, but offers his guests food and warm drinks, and watches movies with the guests before they fall asleep on cots, Schiller said.
City officials, however, say Schiller is essentially running a rooming house, which violates Elgin municipal code.
“To be a shelter, you have to have a license. There are churches that have licenses — he doesn’t,” Coby Basham, director of the city’s department of neighborhood services, told the Tribune. “He is pushing the envelope as to rationale.”
After a neighbor called the city to report Schiller, officials and police searched the home on Jan. 2.
Schiller told NBC that Elgin authorities said the ceilings were too low and the windows too high for sleeping.
“They shut me down and said I have 24 hours to return my basement to storage,” Schiller told NBC.
And if he doesn’t stop, city officials told him, they’re going to condemn the home.
Schiller has worked to help the suburban Chicago homeless population for years, the Daily Herald reports.
Schiller’s longtime goal was to open a shelter in the area for the “hard-core” homeless, according to the Daily Herald. That sort of shelter would serve homeless people with violent criminal backgrounds or substance abuse issues.
Alcohol or drug abuse, as well as criminal pasts, can keep some homeless people from being able to find refuge at the main homeless shelter in Elgin, the Daily Herald reports.
Elgin’s emergency shelter, located at the city’s First United Methodist Church of Elgin, only offers shelter when temperatures dip below 15 degrees. Schiller told the Tribune he doesn’t open up the basement unless wind chill drops below 15 degrees and the emergency shelter isn’t open.
“It’s cold enough to freeze to death,” Schiller told NBC.
Schiller was forced to shut down an earlier makeshift shelter in a garage last year for violating codes, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“I understand the reason for building codes,” Schiller told the newspaper. But, in certain circumstances, “those codes can be waived. I wanted to bring these people into my property because of those issues. They suffer from mental issues, drugs, alcohol abuse, that prohibits them from getting into shelter. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a warm, place to stay.”
City officials found out about the shelter when first responders were called to a medical emergency at the residence. The city told the Tribune the house wasn’t suitable for hosting the eight homeless people they found there.
“Using space heaters and gas-powered appliances (in a garage), it’s not appropriate, it’s not safe,” Elgin Code Enforcement Manager Vince Cuchetto told the Tribune at the time.