The night shift is usually the hardest to fill at the homeless shelters in Chicago’s south suburbs. But that’s the shift Dale Taylor prefers.
For 19 years, Taylor, a broker-associate with RE/MAX 10 in New Lenox, Ill., has spent nearly every Monday night helping make life a little better for more than 35 homeless men at the South Suburban Public Action to Deliver Shelter space he manages at the Faith Lutheran Church in Homewood. Taylor takes on responsibilities in all facets of the program—from distributing food and cleaning to fundraising and serving on the board of directors. He calls his volunteerism a “divine calling.”
“I believe if you sow good seeds, those seeds will come to harvest. I don’t mind putting in the work or spending my own money. God will take care of me,” Taylor says.
Through its network of 14 area churches, SSPADS supports men, women, and children experiencing homelessness. The organization offers overnight lodging and meals from October to April. Taylor starts his shift around 6 p.m. by mopping floors, then helps the food crew serve meals at 7 p.m. Lights are out by 10 p.m., and Taylor spends the night cleaning bathrooms and keeping watch over the shelter guests. He goes home at 7 a.m.
“I learned early in my real estate career that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care,” says Taylor, who’s been a licensed agent for 34 years. “When they come to that shelter, they’re part of my family. We’re all going to respect one another and there’s going to be trust in that family.”
Beyond the volunteer hours he puts in, Taylor is a dedicated fundraiser. Since he started, Taylor has raised more than $300,000 for SSPADS, including in-kind donations. “I’m a master of social media,” he says. He’ll add donation links to his Facebook posts and put out a call when the shelters need volunteers or specific items such as toiletries, socks, shoes, or underwear. “My mindset is always fundraising. It’s a daily act for me,” he says.
The need in Taylor’s community is severe. Some 40% of the people who stay in the shelter say they have no income. About 30% say, when they're not at the shelter, they're in a place not meant for habitation, like an abandoned building or under a bridge, and 25% are doubled up with other households.
In fiscal year 2018, SSPADS provided emergency shelter for about 1,000 people, served nearly 38,000 meals, and assisted many to find affordable rental homes. “My personal commitment is to seeing every person housed,” Taylor says. “My passion is to see clients move from sleeping on the shelter floor at a church to an apartment or home, and ultimately becoming self-sufficient.”
In 2012, the nonprofit opened the Country Club Hills Wellness Center, a 77-unit building with wraparound services for formerly homeless individuals and families, which includes mental and physical health check-ups and services as well as classes for financial literacy and life skills.
“I learned early in my real estate career that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.”—Dale Taylor
“You can tell he’s proud that more is being done for the community than providing shelter at night,” says Rohit D’Souza, SSPADS’ philanthropy director. “Dale was part of that effort, speaking with aldermen, mayors, business owners, members of the faith community in order to bring this together.”
Following a Call to Service
Taylor was recruited to volunteer after area shelters were inundated with victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. SSPADS prepared a temporary shelter for the displaced New Orleans residents, many of whom arrived without belongings—some without even shoes. “It was very obvious that many of them were plucked off their roof, put on an airplane, and brought here,” Taylor says. Being able to help filled Taylor with satisfaction, so much so that he continued volunteering after the Katrina victims found permanent housing. He became a shelter site manager and joined the board.
“He’s very mission-focused, and at the board meeting, when people talk about financial aspects of the organization, Dale is good at bringing it back to the clients and the community. He’s good at not separating us from them—it’s about everybody,” says D’Souza.
Taylor attributes his success as a shelter manager to his background in real estate and customer service. His calm yet authoritative presence contributes to a peaceful atmosphere — though he is sometimes tested. Last year, a man came into the shelter intoxicated. He was angry and started a fight with another shelter guest. “I got him talking to help understand what was going on with him,” Taylor says. When the man refused to leave, Taylor stood his ground. The man backed off and was escorted out without incident.
On another occasion, a man came to the shelter who had lost all his fingers from sleeping outdoors in frigid temperatures. “It brought tears to my eyes,” Taylor says. With his hands still bandaged up and no longer having the ability to grasp, the man was having difficulty using the bathroom and dressing himself. He needed assisted living, so Taylor recommended permanent placement at a care facility. “There’s no real training to be a shelter manager other than the training you’ve received in life through your experiences,” Taylor says
Walking the Walk
Reginald Torian, a former U.S. track star and an SSPADS staff member, says that when he met Taylor, what impressed him most was that Taylor knew the names of all the men staying at the shelter and the reason they were there. Those connections make a difference, says Torian, speaking from personal experience. He was a guest himself at another SSPADS shelter site in 2010 and 2011 when he fell on hard times after moving from Indiana to the Chicago area.
Torian says Taylor is keenly aware of all the hardships that can lead to homelessness: divorce, gambling, job loss, foreclosure, identity theft, and “numerous reasons other than what society traditionally thinks about homeless people,” says Torian, who was an NCAA champion at the University of Wisconsin and won a silver medal in the 60-meter hurdles at the 1999 World Indoor Championships. “A lot of people are a paycheck or snap of a finger away from being homeless.”
“Some people are destined to serve others,” says Torian. “Dale wears one hat, and that’s a hat of love.”