Fundraiser on homelessness awareness planned at 2 sites

Fundraiser on homelessness awareness planned at 2 sites

CHAMPAIGN — C-U at Home, the organization housing some of the community's most vulnerable homeless folks, will repeat its winter fundraiser, One Winter Night, in which people spend a cold night outside in boxes.

But this year, One Winter Night will be held in two places, in downtown Champaign like last year, and on the University of Illinois Quad.

Organization founder and leader Melany Jackson said she wanted to keep the support and visibility of downtown Champaign for the event, set for overnight Feb. 1-2.

But, she also said, "we've been getting more and more of the university community involved."

How One Winter Night works: Volunteers raise donations to experience a cold winter night outside — the way homeless people do, without the comfort of a warm house and bed.

Participants will be outdoors from 6 p.m. Feb. 1 to 6 a.m. Feb. 2.

Money raised will help foot the cost of rent, utilities and support for three formerly homeless persons C-U at Home is currently housing and those expenses for a fourth man who will be sharing one of the rental houses in January, Jackson said.

A recent survey done by her organization in Champaign-Urbana and Rantoul identified eight additional "most vulnerable homeless people" — those living in streets and most vulnerable to dying there — than last year's survey.

Two of last year's most vulnerable homeless people have died, Jackson said, and her organization believes there are now 22 most vulnerable homeless people in the three cities.

While the winter fundraiser is two months away, C-U at Home has begun rounding up volunteers because it will need a lot of them.

Jackson said about 200 volunteers will be needed to staff both locations: She hopes to get 30 to 40 people sleeping out in boxes in each location, and plenty of volunteers at both places to help with registration, hospitality, working the drive-through and collecting donations, she said.

Students participating are being asked to raise $50 each in donations, and downtown participants are being asked to reach out to the business community and try to raise $1,500 each, Jackson said.

To donate or volunteer, call 819-4569 or visit

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CULater wrote on December 26, 2012 at 11:12 am

I've said it before and I will say it again. This is OFFENSIVE to the homeless. Have your fundraiser but dont go out and pretend to be homeless because you can't even begin to understand the struggle this people go through.

Bulldogmojo wrote on December 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm


Each year I read in the local press, a news story reporting homelessness awareness and those who have chosen to sleep out for one night to bring our attention to this issue. I am aware that these activists garner pledges for their outward bound ordeal of sleeping out on one chilly night to donate to shelters and related support organizations. However this activity is one of the most self-absorbed narcissistic events I have ever seen. With all the ways we count earned pledge payments from donors such as biking, walking, running, etc., why participate in such a mockery and mimicry of the turmoil that homeless people actually suffer? I do mean suffer in the very real sense.

I think it would be unimaginable for anyone to “bring awareness” to the issue of breast cancer by going to a chemo clinic where people are receiving their toxic and painful Intravenous treatments and sit down and pretend to be getting the same treatment by taping an IV tube to their own arm for an afternoon. Would we declare that the actual patient is just not bringing enough attention to cancer by actually having the cancer? They must need our imitation as well to bring “awareness”. We don’t do this because it would be a mockery of the very life and death struggle the cancer patient goes through yet we do it to the homeless. Homelessness can be just as deadly for those who face it. I think it is going to take a little more effort than this posturing to solve causes that affect our daily lives and those of our neighbors and loved ones.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 26, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Your right.  Although; I like the pictures of Champaign mayor, Gerard, wearing his big fur hat.

C-U Townie wrote on December 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

The mockery doesn't end with the fundraiser. It continues to the organization itself. The founder has burned through thousands of dollars... not sure how. They raised almost $30000 at the first winter fundraiser. She wanted to raise another $20000 at her summer event. She housed two individuals who then died. That in itself tells you something. One had been homeless for 15 years and he's in her program not even a year and dies. But the "care" her organization provides is a joke. So don't be surprised that they continue this sham of a fundraiser. I'm surprised the City let her hold this type of event the first time. 

Someone needs to look into the finances of this organization, who to my knowledge is not an official non-profit. I would hope someone would look into how she has spent the organization's money before more money is donated. She was let go at one local non-profit for spending money extravagantly after they had a windfall with a fundraiser. She was also fired from a local radio station after issues with her escalated and she would not cooperate to resolve them. 

And to point out why someone like the founder would continue this... She sold everything she had and quit her jobs to work on this organization. By doing so she had to live at Restoration Urban Ministries. A facility that houses individuals in need. She took a spot in that facility that someone TRULY in need could have used just so she could work on starting C-U at Home. That is a mockery. You're taking a place for someone who was truly homeless. She could have continued her job and kept her home. Now she's making up for it. I wouldn't be surprised if the money was going into her pocket. 

Importantlocalopinion wrote on December 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I don't know the details of the finances either because it is not a 501 3c yet. But I would say knowing how non-profits usually work, just because they have raised that much money in the past year doesn't mean that it all has been spent. Usually you want to create a stable organization the first few years by not spending all your resources. But it is a good question why they haven't recieved their 5013c status yet. The rest of your comment is just defamation and conjecture. Her "care" killed a man? Her master plan was to sell her house and then recoup her losses through fundraisers?

rsp wrote on December 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm

To become 501 c3 just requires filing a form with the state. It can be done in a single day. By not doing so she may need to file income tax on all that money she has received. They also need to be extra sure to tell everyone who has given to her cause that they can't use it as a tax deduction. I was just looking at their blog and they state that they are incorporated with the state. Just not yet as a non-profit. Here's the problem with that. When you register with the state you do so as a non-profit. As I stated at the start, because I've done it before, you can fill out the papers and drive them over to Springfield and do it in one day. 

C-U Townie wrote on December 30, 2012 at 11:12 pm

She put the cart before the horse. In some respects it can be admirable to sacrifice your current lifestyle to focus on a cause. However, that needs to include careful planning. Her impulsiveness with her "sacrifice" is indicative of her thought process when it comes to forethought and hindsight. I partially blame this on her religious belief. She is slightly delusional. Which is not speaking ill of those who are religious but speaking directly to her mental health. I would like to add that this same religious posturing was an obstacle for the care her clients received. Case and point, she did not want to include any type of substance abuse treatment for her clients. Why? She believed that prayer ALONE would be sufficient in healing a client and saving him from both his mental health and substance abuse issues. Not very realistic considering the gravity of both that exist in a majority of those who are homeless, especially those who have been homeless for a significant period of time. 

Secondly, her care for her clients is minimal. An individual who volunteered for a local non-profit, who was a client of hers, stated that he was able to accomplish more on his own than she was. He stated that she was not organized and that the assistance she offered, outside of putting a roof over his head, were all tasks he could complete on his own. He had expected more help. She had promised more help. She houses clients which is just geography. You remove the man from the street but it is removing the street from the man that becomes the larger issue.

Finding resources for work, food, phone, utilities, and other odds and ends requires manpower. Not money. She also has churches and private donors who donate these items to the clients. Her main expense is rent and possibly utilities. Being generous, let's say she has to budget for $1000/month for rent and utilities. I can understand wanting to have thousands of dollars at your disposal. She's asking for about $65k from her current fundraiser. If she had $100k and only spent it on rent and utilities she would be able to house a small number of individuals. I understand that money can go fast. But my concern is what she ISN'T doing. She has no policy, procedure, or protocol when it comes to how to serve her clients. She has NO experience or education regarding substance abuse or mental health. She doesn't even have experience in social work. Mental health and substance abuse are two very key components when it comes to the homeless. Housing someone is beneficial, but there is more to it than that. 

I am not blaming her for the death of those two individuals. But with the first individual she played very fast and loose. If she had a structured system for caring for clients she may have been able to help him more and for longer. I hate to state this but while she may feel she is following God's instruction I also believe her mental health includes vanity. Out of this she has reveled in the fact that she now teaches a class at a local church who she has believed will always financially back her. This is not conjecture. This is based on first hand knowledge and experience with this organization. Nor is it defamation. The facts are that she has NO structure for caring for her clients. She has NO experience with how to EFFICIENTLY care for the homeless. She has had NO intention of considering the inclusion of mental health services, including substance abuse treatment. That is fact. That is detrimental to the success of a program regarding the homeless. She could borrow from how the TIMES Center operates. They offer both services. 

Bottom line is her organization is NOT ready to have clients. As a donor I would question what it is she does exactly to serve her clients... and therefore why does she need thousands of dollars. If she wanted to be efficient she would rent ONE house with several rooms, not rent several houses with one individual living in each of them. She would provide 24 hour staffing of the one house. She would have on-site group meetings. She would have a social worker at the very least volunteering. She would work with Community Elements to learn the operations of the TIMES Center to have a better idea of how to treat the homeless. Right now she's essentially like a kid playing house. The problem is these aren't dolls these are living, breathing human beings. I wouldn't want to fail at serving them. 

rsp wrote on December 31, 2012 at 10:12 am

I don't know if people remember Richard Lemke. I worked with him and got him off the street. It took me over 6 months of work to do it. It didn't cost me thousands of dollars but hundreds of hours of my time. Everyone said he wanted to live on the street but he just wanted to live his way. Everyone kept trying to change him instead of finding out where he was and what was going on with him. He spent the last years of his life with his family because I was able to help him. Because of his example, another man who was homeless who was also his friend was also able to get off the street. He just past away. 

45solte wrote on December 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm

Paid time (with a non-profit)? Or, did you do this on a volunteer basis?

rsp wrote on December 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

My own time. I worked with some organizations to do some other things but for that it was just me.

When people go out and try to do things just to feed their own egos and not make it about what the individual needs it ends up causing harm. There are a lot of people involved because they need to be needed. Or they are undiagnosed themselves and they have this grandiosity about them. They know how to fix everything or they are going to save everyone. When you start from there you can't build any trust because you don't know what the person is going through. If you know all the answers why would you ask any questions?

45solte wrote on December 31, 2012 at 8:12 pm

That's nice to hear.  Thanks for answering my question. 

asparagus wrote on December 30, 2012 at 10:12 am

Two of the biggest probelms with dealing with homelessness are addiction and mental illness.  Having spent time volunteering at the Times center I can tell you that these two issues are intertwined and very difficult to deal with without resorting to totalitarian measures.  I have come to the belief that homelessness in a free society will always exist.  All we can do is largely what we do now, provide temporary shelter and programs to help those that have the capacity to get out, and simply try to ameliorate the plight of those that don't.


Importantlocalopinion wrote on January 04, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful response! I really appreciate the insight into the organization.