Moving into Eden

Nine-story center with 150 apartments for people with physical disabilities opens in Champaign

CHAMPAIGN — If all goes according to plan, residents with physical disabilities can begin moving into the Eden Supportive Living center in downtown Champaign this week.

"We're hoping we can move people in by Monday," said Mitch Hamblet, president of Eden Supportive Living.

The nine-story center — across from West Side Park on the site of a former Howard Johnson's hotel — has been under construction for about 14 months.

The center has 150 apartments for people with physical disabilities including multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, strokes and seizures. It's licensed for people between the ages of 22 and 64.

Brandon Wright, 32, of Urbana is among the prospective residents eager to move in.

Wright, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, has been living with his father in Urbana. He said he became a "fan" of Eden after touring the building with his aunt.

Wright said he'll be glad to get the assistance Eden offers and is eager to meet other residents.

"Very few people make friends faster than me," said Wright, who started work on a journalism degree at Parkland College. "I'm very personable, very easy to get along with."

Also anticipating Eden is Brent Hobgood, a 47-year-old former city administrator who had a massive stroke two years ago.

The stroke left him paralyzed and in a coma for a month. Since then, he's been living in hospitals and nursing homes. He currently lives at the Champaign-Urbana Regional Rehab Center in Savoy.

"Since November 2011, I've been trying to get back to independent living," Hobgood said. "I'm getting better every day. I can walk now with a cane and get up on my feet. I lost my speech completely and couldn't swallow. I'm still paralyzed on the upper left side and need some assistance with basic things, like getting dressed. I can't stand in the shower without a cane or grab bar, and I may need assistance with that sort of thing.

"It sounds like Eden is geared toward exactly what I need," he said.

Hamblet said about 50 percent of Eden's units are expected to be occupied over the next month, and projections are for about 20 more residents to move in each succeeding month.

"We're a little ahead of where we thought we would be," he said.

Most residents are coming from the Champaign-Urbana area, he said, but some come from as far away as Peoria. Plus, there's a former Champaign-Urbana resident who is returning to the area from California.

The new occupants will include teachers, lawyers and nurses. Some are working, and others are not working as a result of a disability, he said.

About eight of the residents are college students — half of them grad students, and half working on an undergraduate degree. The number is expected to swell next semester.

Kimberly Cross, executive director of Eden Supportive Living in Champaign, said the average age of residents is in the mid-30s.

Some of the new residents currently live at home with parents or in apartments, and a few live in nursing homes.

Eden provides nursing support, help with medications, wellness programs, daily meals and 24-hour emergency support. It has a restaurant for residents, a theater for video presentations, a music studio, cyberstations scattered throughout the building, plus yoga and exercise centers.

The unfurnished apartments range from 500 to 670 square feet, with nine different layouts available. Residents can choose from studio and one-bedroom apartments.

The apartments are designed with disabilities in mind. The closets are set off by curtains, rather than doors, which Hamblet said could be an obstacle.

The bathrooms have pocket doors and roll-in showers that accommodate wheelchair users. Residents have individual control of thermostats.

Eden also has on-site laundry facilities, with one-button controls on the washers.

A staff of 30 has been hired so far, and Hamblet said Eden is looking for 32 more employees. Among the positions to fill: certified nursing assistants, chefs and servers for the restaurant, housekeepers and activity directors. Job seekers can come to the front-desk concierge or visit http://www.livingineden.com, he said.

Construction costs for Eden amounted to $15 million, which Hamblet said was right "on track" with projections. Total cost of the project, including land and financing, amounted to about $22.5 million, he said.

One thing that hasn't been completed yet: an eight-story waterfall on the building's west side.

"It's still being fabricated," Hamblet said. "There aren't many waterfall companies that build eight-story waterfalls."

Plans call for illuminating it with orange light whenever the Illini win.

The charge for Medicaid-eligible residents is expected to be about $2,710 a month, with part of that for rent and the remainder for other services such as meals, housekeeping, transportation and activities.

But Hamblet said someone can move in for as little as $620 a month. A check for $710 would be required, but residents would get $90 of that back, he said.

Hobgood, who is recovering from a stroke, said Eden will be a refreshing change from living in nursing homes.

"I've been in nursing homes for two years, and I love the people here, but I'm ready to be living with contemporaries closer to my demographic pattern," he said.

Although Hobgood spent much of his professional career in the St. Louis area, he said he wanted to return to the Champaign-Urbana area, where many of his family members live.

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