Group finds more than 100 homeless are 'most vulnerable'

Group finds more than 100 homeless are 'most vulnerable'

A survey to find Champaign County's "most vulnerable" homeless identified more than 100 individuals at risk of dying on the street, according to the group that sponsored the poll.

C-U At Home, a church-based group formed earlier this year, conducted the survey this week as part of a national campaign called 100,000 Homes. Preliminary results were announced Friday.

"The first time I saw that number I was shocked," said Melany Jackson, founder of C-U at Home. "It's much higher than the average we were expecting."

Starting at 3:30 a.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 80 volunteers combed the streets, soup kitchens, local homeless shelters and other agencies to identify those considered most vulnerable in Champaign-Urbana and Rantoul.

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 at risk of dying unless their circumstances change, according to Jackson.

Volunteers used a "vulnerability index" developed by doctors from Boston's Healthcare for the Homeless organization, which is based on length of time on the streets, age, emergency-room and hospital visits, physical health, mental health, substance abuse and other factors.

They surveyed 303 individuals in all, counting anyone who had been homeless within the last 12 months. The 303 represented households with 525 people — 360 adults and 165 children, said Jackson, who also chairs the local Council of Service Providers for the Homeless.

A third were identified as most vulnerable, which Jackson found "incredibly sobering. The need is great, and C-U at Home wants to be a part of meeting that need."

C-U at Home plans to partner with churches and other faith-based groups to find suitable housing for those most at risk and provide support to help them get back on their feet. Jackson hopes to get one or two individuals housed by the end of the year, and a half-dozen by the end of 2012.

"Winter is coming. Time is of the essence," she said.

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

"There just aren't beds available," she said.

The C-U at Home effort is separate from the comprehensive "point-in-time" homelessness survey conducted every other January for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The January 2011 survey found 549 homeless individuals in Champaign County.

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