Jon Jones and Isela Guerra moved to Champaign from Texas in November 2007 for a construction job Jones was certain he had. But the job fell through, and Jones couldn't find any other work.
The couple spent that Christmas on the streets and lived homeless over the next few months – sleeping by day in local libraries and spending the nights trying to stay warm.
CHAMPAIGN – If you have a family, little or no money saved and the place you rent has been condemned, you may be out of luck – even though local officials and social service providers are working to come up with plans to help people who need emergency housing.
"The bottom line across the board is money, money, money," said John Sullivan, chairman of the Council of Service Providers for the Homeless. "The resources for emergency (housing) are very limited, especially if you are an intact family; you have no place to go."
Champaign and Urbana both have rental housing inspection programs, but the two are markedly different.
The inspections are designed to ensure that a rental property complies with fire safety codes as well as city and national maintenance and building codes. The codes cover such issues as lack of proper heating or hot water, roof or ceiling leaks, flooding, mold, plumbing problems, broken or nonworking windows and roach or rodent infestations.
Alveta Henderson struggled with homelessness for 10 years. Some nights she slept in her van while her two younger children stayed at Crisis Nursery in Champaign.
Henderson's homelessness was sometimes due to domestic violence situations or living beyond her means, but she blamed it mostly on work – or lack of it.
Taking a step inside the home of Adam C. Douglass and Rayna Jeske in the Cherry Orchard apartment complex reveals another world.
The kitchen gas stove is lit to produce some heat to offset a broken furnace; a section of the living room floor appears ready to fall through; a bucket has been placed beside the toilet to collect leaking water; what appears to be mold is growing on the ceiling, and roaches scurry everywhere.
Rental property is big business in Champaign County.
With nearly 35,300 units, Champaign County has the highest percentage of occupied rental housing units among the state's metropolitan counties, according to 2008 Census Bureau estimates.
Yet rental-inspection programs are inconsistent across the county – with stark differences between programs in the cities of Champaign and Urbana and, except for Rantoul, little to no oversight elsewhere.
The inspections are designed to ensure that rental properties – which include non-owner-occupied single-family houses, duplexes and apartment-style buildings – comply with fire safety codes as well as city and national maintenance and building codes.
The profile of Bloomington-Normal closely mirrors that of Champaign-Urbana.
They are twin cities that boast a major university – Illinois State University, which has an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students.
CHAMPAIGN – Members of a family whose house was seriously damaged in an electrical fire Monday say they cannot afford to rent a new home because their landlord refuses to return their damage deposit or refund the remainder of January's rent.
The landlord said she will return some of the money, but notes she has a month to do so.
Trinidad Morales' family – which includes her husband, 2-year-old daughter, pregnant sister, brother-in-law and 1-year-old nephew – is now sleeping in a friend's living room. Morales' other two daughters were visiting their sick grandmother in Mexico when the fire occurred and cannot return to Champaign until the family finds a new place to live.
Now that the holidays are over, new toys, clothes and papers are piling up – and you're stuck inside.
Which means this is a great time to think about decluttering your home and getting organized.
CHAMPAIGN – It's official: Despite the economic slowdown, more homes were sold in Champaign County in 2009 than in 2008.
Figures released last week by the Champaign County Association of Realtors' Multiple Listing Service show 2,471 homes were sold in 2009, compared with 2,461 homes in 2008.