The Write Hotel in Oak Park. | File

Crossing Austin Boulevard: This story is part of an ongoing series of articles that Austin Weekly News publishes about issues, events, people, places and things that take place west of Austin Boulevard, but that nonetheless resonate to the east of it, as well.

Housing Forward has extended its lease with the Write Inn Hotel, 211 N. Oak Park Ave., for another year.

The non-profit, which works to transition people experiencing homelessness into stable housing, will continue to use all rooms in the hotel to house clients in its interim housing program, which provides temporary accommodation for those in the program until permanent residences become available. Housing Forward’s service area includes west suburban Chicago, as well as Austin.

“It’s been just a really strong programmatic move for Housing Forward,” said Erik Johnson, the non-profit’s chief development officer.

Prior to the pandemic, Housing Forward utilized nightly emergency shelters at rotating church locations to house people experiencing homelessness. And for 27 years, that model sufficed, but the highly contagious nature of the COVID-19 virus prompted Housing Forward to part ways with the traditional practice, which made social distancing impossible.

“We knew from following best practices that using empty hotels was a highly effective way to respond to the pandemic,” said Johnson. “What we intuited and what we are finding to be true is the impact of stability.”

Having a consistent place to sleep at night, rather than wondering where to go next for shelter, allows Housing Forward clients to take a breath and plan for next steps with the help and support of the non-profit’s case managers and staff, according to Johnson.

“We’ve had a 70 percent placement rate of those exiting the program going into a more permanent housing situation, which is a huge success,” he said. “And we are finding just the impact of this on other areas of the individual’s life is equally as strong.”

For its success, Housing Forward was recognized by the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago with its Community Excellence Award for 2021. The honor was also bestowed upon Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Public Health Department.

Housing Forward is paying for its Write Inn lease using COVID-19 relief funds, as was the case last year. The majority of this year’s lease will be paid for using Federal Emergency Management Agency funding and Cook County Coronavirus Relief Funds, according to Johnson.

The Write Inn is not to be confused with an emergency shelter. The 65-room hotel is strictly used for interim housing. Housing Forward has been screening individuals and approving them for permanent housing prior to moving them into the Write Inn.

“The goal of the program is to link clients to the support and resources they need to achieve a more permanent housing destination,” said Johnson, who called working with the Write Inn “phenomenal.”