Pacific Garden Mission evolves in aiding houseless individuals, providing shelter for 145 years

By Irvin Ibarra, Staff Reporter

As the temperatures begin to grow colder, one of Chicago’s legacy shelters prepares its facilities for the anticipated growth of people in need and experiencing homelessness.

The Pacific Garden Mission was founded in 1877 with the goal to aid the homeless in the city through the lens of the Christian religion.

“The best way I can describe it is to say that through using scripture and my own personal experience … [it is to] understand the necessity of being a good steward of everything that God provides for us,” said Terry Cunningham, vice president of PGM.

PGM offers resources ranging from drug rehabilitation programs, dormitories able to house 1,200 people, a warming center, resources for parents with infants and other amenities like a barbershop, beauty salon and a clothing department, which provides free clothes to people at PGM.

In January 1984, the Chronicle reported on PGM at its former location near the intersection of State Street and Balbo Drive.

In 2008, amid its demolition to make way for the construction of William Jones College Preparatory High School at the same intersection, PGM was relocated to its current location at 1458 S. Canal St.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Philip Kwiatkowski, current president of the PGM, referring to when Jones Prep took over the lot. “It was an iconic landmark that was taken down, so it was sad, even though we ended up with a nicer facility.”

Kwiatkowski has witnessed the major additions made to the facilities since his involvement with the mission in 1988, involving staffing improvements and navigating the changing needs over decades from clients.

“I would say when I was a kid, I saw the same people. You’d get 20 to 100 people at the old facility, at max. Now, you have 900 people,” said Michael Kwiatkowski, assistant supervisor of hospitality and son of Philip. “The fact that they can stay here during the day and be cared for is the biggest change from the old location to the new one.”

Harry Saulnier, one of the previous superintendents of PGM, was interviewed by the Chronicle in 1984 about PGM’s role in improving its former facility, and he is remembered as a “man with vision” by Philip Kwiatkowski.

“He started the radio program ‘Unshackled,’ [and] he started the women’s division,” Philip Kwiatkowski said. “I think nowadays, we have new issues that we’re dealing with that they weren’t dealing with back in the ’80s. So I would have seen Harry continuing his legacy of being a visionary and taking the mission forward.”