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Humane Society cites renovation costs, announces closure of Homewood Adoption Center

South Suburban Humane Society’s Homewood Adoption Center is closed after building problems and staffing levels made it impractical to operate, according to CEO Emily Klehm. (Chronicle file photo)

South Suburban Humane Society CEO Emily Klehm said she still remembers her excitement on the day in 2019 when the Homewood Adoption Center officially opened. It was a dream come true.

But four years later, the building no longer is a viable part of the society’s operation, and Klehm announced on Friday, Dec. 15, that the facility is closed.

Klehm said a number of factors influenced the decision. The primary challenge was the condition of the building. The former veterinarian’s office at 2207 183rd St. was not built to animal sheltering standards, she said. For the original purpose of the building, to serve as a place for fast-track adoptions, that was less of a problem. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, the shelter has been getting more strays, more big dogs, and the kennels were not adequate to house them.

In the announcement of the closure, Klehm noted that the center “doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the medically and behaviorally challenged animals we’re intaking” and the conditions there were causing the animals stress.

SSHS tried fixing some of the problems, but the building started having other problems. Heating and air conditioning problems made it difficult to house animals there during very hot or very cold days.

“The whole building felt like a dam, where we put our finger in one hole and a new leak would sprout out in another direction,” she said.

Estimates for making the bare minimum repairs came in at about $350,000. To make all the repairs needed would have been up to $750,000.

The costs did not make sense, Klehm said, when considering the number of adoptions the center supported. During 2023, 430 animals were adopted from the Homewood location, 860 were adopted at off-site adoption events and 2,106 were adopted from the organization’s new facility at 21800 Central Ave. in Matteson, a 19,000 square foot space that opened in June 2022.

To help compensate for the loss of the center, SSHS plans to focus on more adoption events, which have been successful and will enable the organization to maintain its presence in the community. Klehm noted that SSHS already has regular events at Flossmoor Station Restaurant and Brewery, Ford of Homewood and Petco in Homewood.

She hopes to partner with more local businesses to host adoption events.

“We don’t ever want to lose our roots in the H-F community,” she said.

There are two adoption events scheduled in coming weeks at Petco, 17930 Halsted St., one on Saturday, Dec. 30, and one on Saturday, Jan. 14. Both events will run from noon to 3 p.m.

The next step for the building has not yet been determined, and until it is, there might be occasional pop-up adoption events there.

Klehm said she has been discussing with village officials possibilities for the future of the building, which was given to SSHS by a donor. She does not want to leave it vacant and hopes to have a plan in place soon.

Another factor in the decision to close the center was staffing shortages. Klehm said that, like many employers, SSHS has struggled since the pandemic to maintain staff levels, and volunteer numbers haven’t completely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, either.

That made operating two locations impractical. Closing one will ease pressure on the staff and volunteers, Klehm said.

In spite of the decision to close, Klehm said she considers the adoption center a success. It was a necessity when it was opened. The main shelter in Chicago Heights had become inadequate to serving the needs of the animals.

She said the center was an important bridge between the old shelter and the new facility.

“I don’t want anyone to think it was a failure because we closed it. It wasn’t. It was exactly what we needed,” she said. “We can still feel really proud about that, and we can be sad. We just didn’t have a choice. This is a decision we’ve debated for months and months.”

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