Church-based group to conduct homelessness survey

Church-based group to conduct homelessness survey

CHAMPAIGN — A new church-based group created to help the "most vulnerable" of Champaign-Urbana's homeless population will conduct a homelessness survey next month, part of a national campaign called 100,000 Homes.

C-U at Home is dedicated to finding suitable housing for those "most at risk of dying on the streets," said founder Melany Jackson, who also chairs the local Council of Service Providers for the Homeless.

The national campaign, founded by Common Ground, has a goal of housing 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless people across the country by July 2013.

The plan is to enlist churches and other faith-based groups to adopt a homeless individual or family, providing housing and whatever support they need to get back on their feet.

"It's definitely a new approach," Jackson said, saying the national campaign is a kick-start to the effort. "If we get churches really connected and this works, it certainly won't end in 2013."

On Oct. 24-26, local volunteers will hit the streets and visit soup kitchens and other agencies to identify those considered most vulnerable in Champaign-Urbana. The term refers to the long-term homeless, people who are mentally ill, physically ill or abuse drugs or alcohol — or sometimes all three — who by definition are "more at risk of dying unless something changes," she said.

Once the population is identified, individuals will be matched up with churches willing to help, she said.

So far, about nine churches have expressed interest in the effort, Jackson said.

"This is asking them to really dig in and get their hands dirty, so it's a huge commitment," she said. "There's a big difference between giving money and actually taking care of someone."

All of transitional housing programs at local homeless shelters have waiting lists, with more applicants than they have beds, Jackson noted.

The C-U at Home effort is separate from the homelessness survey conducted every other January for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jackson said her survey will go into more depth, with detailed questions about mental health, physical health, substance abuse and the length of time they've spent on the street.

"That's one 24-hour snapshot. This is three days," she said.

Volunteers will also create a photo registry of those completing the survey.

Jackson said other shelters have offered moral and in-kind support. She lives at Restoration Urban Ministries, works with the Salvation Army's Canteen Run project, and uses a free office at the Center for Women in Transition.

The other two host communities in Illinois for 100,000 Homes are Chicago and East St. Louis, she said.

Jackson, 41, who grew up in Centralia, spent a year working as office manager at Salt and Light Ministries. She has also worked in promotions and production at WBGL Christian radio and the Decatur Herald and Review, taught at Parkland College and held other part-time jobs at the University of Illinois and her church.

She read about the 100,000 Homes project last spring and decided to devote all of her time to fighting homelessness. She quit her paid jobs, sold all of her belongings, moved into Restoration and formed the new group.

C-U at Home is looking for volunteers and financial support to complete the survey. As part of the process, those who complete the survey will be offered a $5 gift card for a hot meal later that day from McDonald's or Steak 'n Shake. A total of 700 gift cards are needed.

For information, visit for details on how to make a tax-deductible financial contribution.

Volunteers are needed for data entry, data analysis, photography and computer processing. Volunteer training will be held Oct. 23. Survey results will be announced Oct. 28. All survey activities will take place at First Presbyterian Church, 302 W. Church St., C.