One Illinois Man Stepped In To Help The Homeless. But Now, He Could Be Out On The Street.

Greg Schiller's good deed has caused a local controversy.

Greg Schiller is insistent: they're not just homeless people off the street, they are his friends.

The Elgin, Illinois, resident is in a tug-of-war with the city over his effort to house a group of homeless people when a local shelter at a church isn't open to them. Elgin officials say his girlfriend's house, where he lives, doesn't have a basement that meets city code to sleep the 10-15 adults that have occasionally stayed there.

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As a result, the city has threatened to condemn the home if it happens again.

"I understand, they've got building codes," Schiller told A Plus. "They are enforcing the building codes to the letter, without predjudice and without a heart." 

Greg Schiller takes a selfie in the basement where the homeless in Elgin have stayed. Photo Credit: Greg Schiller

But Schiller insists that despite his home not meeting city codes for a shelter, he actually isn't operating a shelter at all. Instead, he simply opens his doors to friends when they can't stay at a local church or other shelters in the area. Schiller has been working with the homeless in Elgin since 2011 and helped run a homeless shelter for two winters at another church in town. Now he's trying to look after the men and women he met during his time there. 

"I've gotten to know them," Schiller said. "I've developed relationships with them. They are my friends, they're my family. They trust me and they know they can rely on me, they know if they need something and they get a hold of me, if I can do it I will."

When discussing the situation with The Chicago Tribune, Schiller described the homeless sleeping in his basement as "slumber parties." But the city wasn't having it. They said city code allowing a group of people to sleep in a basement only applied to children, not to adults. The city insisted people couldn't sleep in his basement unless it included egress windows, or extra exits, which he said wouldn't be a problem to add.

The biggest issue was that the basement ceiling needed to be seven feet tall in order for a group of people to sleep there. Schiller said that would require either lifting the ceiling or making the basement deeper, as it's about five inches short, which he didn't think was possible.

While he understood the need for the city to enforce the code, he wished they could have fudged the record a bit and revisited with him in the spring to plan for the upcoming winter. Instead, he's been issued a warning that if any homeless are spotted staying there the city will condemn the home. 

His efforts aren't just exclusive to the winter, either. In the summertime, Schiller hosts barbecues where he invites the entire homeless community to come eat for free. He says there will be 50 to 70 people there, two grills going, and a live band. It's not hard to help, either, he insists. Lots of needs for homeless people aren't that expensive, you can give them socks, gloves, a hamburger or "just kind of look at them and figure out what they need."

"I see the gap in services here, and somebody has got to do it," Schiller said. "Nobody wants to step up. Everyone wants to do the bare minimum around here … but I'm sorry, I can't let my friends freeze to death in the cold."

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