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Portage Park Disability Center To Close Due To State Cuts: 'It's Atrocious'

By Alex Nitkin | October 3, 2017 5:21am | Updated on October 4, 2017 11:38am
 The Sunshine Activity center has served hundreds of developmentally disabled adults since it opened in 1985.
The Sunshine Activity center has served hundreds of developmentally disabled adults since it opened in 1985.
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GoFundMe/Save Sunshine Center!

CHICAGO — The 27 developmentally disabled adults accustomed to spending their afternoons at the Sunshine Activity Center, 6202 W. Montrose Ave., were turned away Monday after the center ended 32 years of service in Portage Park, its director announced.

The center was forced to shutter after it lost the $194,000 in annual state funding it had relied upon until last year, executive director Diane Gunaka said.

The state's human services department tightened its eligibility requirements to mandate that caregivers bring their clients on daily trips to "socialize in the community," a practice that doesn't mesh with the center's model of in-house care, Gunaka said.

"We're just not that kind of agency," she said. "Our clients come to us at different times of day to do activities ... that's the way we've been doing it for 32 years, and all of a sudden we didn't qualify."

Every afternoon, the center hosted "social programs" and "daily adult living" classes including music, art, drama, emergency safety and indoor sports, Gunaka said. Now the clients have to find help elsewhere.

"It's sad, because some of our people don't know where to go," the director said. "Their disability doesn't allow them get up and work, and their [caretakers] can't provide for them."

Still reeling from funding gaps stretched by the state's two-year absence of a budget, the center is now turning to the public to help patch its debt of more than $10,000. Staffers are soliciting donations on a GoFundMe page and selling what remains of the center's inventory so Gunaka can pay her small staff and "leave clean" before the center's lease expires on Oct. 15, she said.

"We still have all kinds of overhead, and we're just trying to pay our staff before we have to be out of here," Gunaka said.

The center will sell nearly everything it owns on site — including office supplies, furniture and kitchen materials — from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday next week.

State Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) had lobbied Gov. Bruce Rauner to keep the grant money flowing, since this year's budget set aside the same amount for respite care as it had in previous years: $9 million. But Rauner's human services director chose to narrow the grant's impact anyway, Martwick said.

"We really tried to protect the funding, but this was a decision made at the executive level," Martwick told DNAinfo Monday. "These people's lives are so sensitive, and if we're putting them out in the streets to protect the wealthiest in our state from paying higher taxes ... it's atrocious."

State Sen. John Mulroe (D-Chicago) also weighed in on the center's closure Monday, releasing a statement calling it "a great loss for our neighborhood."

A spokeswoman for Rauner did not respond to a request for comment Monday.