Volunteers prepare for fundraiser to fight homelessness

CHAMPAIGN — Sleeping bag: Check.

Long underwear: Check.

Cardboard box: Check.

The temperatures are on their way down for the weekend, and dozens of volunteers are preparing for a cold Friday night sleeping outside in boxes in downtown Champaign and on the University of Illinois Quad for C-U at Home's annual fundraiser for the homeless called One Winter Night.

The Rev. Janet Rasmussen, who plans to be in one of those boxes downtown, said she doesn't mind being out in the cold to take a walk or go cross-country skiing. But she's aware she and many others choose when they spend that time out in the cold, and the homeless don't.

The pastor of First Mennonite Church, Urbana, Rasmussen said she's also "painfully aware" of affordable-housing issues in the local community and sees One Winter Night as an opportunity to build empathy.

"Certainly it's a challenge for me to walk the talk," she said.

The overnight One Winter Night event in two locations will run from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

It's the main annual fundraiser for C-U at Home, an organization that has identified the homeless people most vulnerable to dying in the streets of Champaign-Urbana and is working to find them homes of their own.

C-U at Home currently has four formerly homeless people living in rental homes, and the money raised by One Winter Night goes to cover those persons' living expenses as they transition from street life to home life, plus find new housing options for more people living on the streets, said the organization's executive director Melany Jackson.

Last year, the downtown Champaign event raised $29,700, and C-U at Home hopes to raise $50,000 this year with locations downtown and on the Quad.

C-U at Home hopes to sign up 30 box dwellers for downtown, and is nearing its goal at 27, Jackson said.

For the campus event, the registration goal is falling much shorter: The organization hopes to sign up 300 box dwellers, yet had signed up only about 60 people at the beginning of the week, Jackson said.

However, she said, she expects many students will register the night of the event, so she still hopes to get a couple of hundred participants. Students tend to just show up at their events, and the more who participate the better, she said.

"Please come on down," she urges.

One Winter Night box dwellers raise pledges in advance, and through business sponsors and donations. Campus box dwellers have been asked to raise $50 apiece, and downtown box dwellers were asked to raise more at $1,500 apiece.

More than 100 volunteers have signed up to help with the event downtown and 70 volunteers have signed up to help in the campus area, among them students, church groups and youth groups. They will be helping with such tasks as registration, setting up and tearing down the event and serving warm beverages, Jackson said.

More volunteers are needed for both locations, she said.

One of the downtown volunteers, Cathy Rector of Champaign, will be with a group of students from the High School of St. Thomas More's Interact Club. The students will be helping serve warm beverages and food through the early part of the night, she said.

Rector is a member of Champaign West Rotary, which sponsors the club. She will also be staying through the night to help, and her husband, Jon, will be one of the downtown box dwellers, she said.

"I think he's got his sleeping bag and his long underwear all laid out and we'll just dress warm," she said. "We're prepared for it."

The Rev. Jim McClarey, pastor of Savoy United Methodist Church, Champaign, will be a downtown Champaign box dweller for a second year, and he remembers last year's event as cold, rainy and a bit uncomfortable. Plus his box leaked.

He also knew he had a lifeline nearby where he could have escaped the rain and cold — a comfort homeless people don't have.

"My car was about three blocks away," he recalled. "I was determined not to use it."

McClarey said his faith and a concern for homelessness compel him to take part in this event.

And, he also said, "I'm kind of an adventurer. New experiences are fun."

Donors have been very generous to this cause, he and Rasmussen said. And, Rasmussen also said, she anticipates a number of friends and church members will come out Friday night to be supportive in person.

"I hope there will be the blessing of community, even on the cold winter night," she said.


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Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 8:01 am

"Certainly it's a challenge for me to walk the talk," she said.

She's camping.  For one night.  How does that make one "walk the talk" (sic)??

Would someone please explain to me how this "fights" homelessness?  This seems like one big pretend homeless encampment and reenactment designed to make the participants feel good about themselves and have something to tell others about for the next couple weeks.  When the participants wake up in the morning, if they even bothered sleeping at all, they can go home to a warm, private shower; eat a warm breakfast at home with their families; and take the day off work to get some sleep in a warm bed - because they can.  Isn't pouring money into the problem without addressing the root issues akin to putting a bandage on an infected wound, hoping it will cure itself?

rsp wrote on January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

All night long on the scanner I hear calls for people to be moved. They do not let homeless people use boxes for shelter. Or have a crew serve warm snacks. 

outoftownie wrote on January 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

I think Morris wrote the answer to your question. Raising money and awareness.

But I was looking at some of your other replies. Not everyone is homeless because of mental illness or poor life choices such as addiction. Some people are homeless because they are trying to escape a poor situation, such as abuse. Others are homeless because of a divorce, or because they had huge medical bills that they could not afford. And yes, some people prefer to be homeless for whatever reason. I know for many that being homeless was a temporary situation from bad luck or a combination of problems. They were trying to get back on their feet, and needed a little extra help to get there.

You would be surprised how many normal people who have jobs are also homeless. When I was in college, my service fraternity would volunteer at the Men's Emergency Shelter, then located in the basement of the Methodist Church on campus. Many men would request to be woken up early so that they could get to their jobs on time. Many men had to take the time to make themselves presentable. The washer and dryer ran non-stop through the night so that many of these men could have clean clothes to go to work.

Boss Hog wrote on January 30, 2013 at 8:01 am

Joe, it sounds like they're doing a lot more about it than you are.

rsp wrote on January 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

There's a difference between doing and doing something effective. Most shelters do what I've always called "creaming", they help the people who need the least amount of help. They added the transitional programs that widen the net so to speak. But if you are unable to "work the program" from the start you are going to continue on a downward spiral. They expect people to abandon the supports they do have in favor of a roof. It will not work. I don't even know if they got their 501c3 yet. Their website claimed you could get a tax break when you couldn't. 

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

@Hog - If you're going to make inflamatory remarks without at least attempting to answer the question, please offer something substantive to back up your claims.  Otherwise, stick to trolling elsewhere.

tattoo58 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

Sounds exciting, a waste of time. People are homeless because of choices they make.

rsp wrote on January 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

So if someone is homeless because they are mentally ill, does that mean mental illness is a choice? Medications don't work for everyone. What about the kids? Is it their choice too? About a third of the homeless are kids. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

Most of the mental illness issues for the homeless are untreated. Further, there are not nearly enough supports for those who do have mental illness - even those who aren't on the street. So yeah, I agree completely. Homelessness would only be a choice for those who obviously aren't capable of making proper choices. Claiming that the homeless choose to be so is only a way to alleviate one's guilt over doing nothing. 

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

Excluding those with diagnosed mental illness, it's not only about choosing to live on the street.  It's about making life choices which ultimately result in one's becoming homeless.

I don't believe many wake up one day and say "This house living is for the birds - I'm heading for the streets", but their homelessness is a result of poor live choices.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 11:01 am

Exactly how many do you think are remaining once you exclude those with mental illness, diagnosed or not?

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Apparently a lot more than you think there are.

And don't confuse mental illness with mental illness being the cause of ones homelessness.   Just because one has a mental illness doesn't mean that the mental illness is the cause of the homelessness.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

True, but it's still a huge contributing factor. I can only suppose that by "choice" you really mean "addiction."

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Looks like the number is about 75% or more that are not suffering from mental illness - the same as the general population.


Yes, addictions would be one example of choices that one made which resulted in homelessness.  Substance abuse, activities such as gambling, etc.

Regardless, I still stand by my assertion that shovelling money at the homeless without trying to cure the illness is a waste of resources.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Read that again. 75% or more that are not suffering from SEVERE AND PERSISTENT mental illness, which is not even CLOSE to the same as the general population.

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Excuse me?

"Approximately 20-25% of the single homeless population suffers from some severe and persistent mental illness.  While 22% of the American population suffers from a mental illness, a small percentage of the 44 million people who have a serious mental illness are homeless at any given point in time."

22% doesn't fall in the range of 20%-25%?  Not only is it close, but it's spot on.

Here's another:

"20-25% meet criteria for serious mental illness"



SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Yes, 20-25% of the homeless population suffers from SEVERE AND PERSISTENT mental illness.

22% of the American population suffers from A MENTAL ILLNESS (note that this does not say "Severe and persistant"). 

For instance, this study finds the percentage in the general population of London to be about 0.25% -not 25% - that's a HUGE difference.


(also published by the national institute of health at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11026955)

The largest estimate I could find was 2.6% - which is less by a FACTOR OF TEN the rate of Severe and Persistent Mental illness in the homeless population. It was here:


Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Splitting hairs of irrelevancy.

Your orignal comment was "Exactly how many do you think are remaining once you exclude those with mental illness, diagnosed or not?"

Any way you look at it, the vast majority of the homeless do NOT suffer from mental illness.  I suspected that the original question that you posed was adversarial, and your focusing on the general populations mental illness confirms it.

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

So you agree that 25% of the homeless are not homeless by choice?

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

No, that number is incorrect.  20%-25% of the homeless have a mental illness, and only 48% of those 20%-25% (10% - 12%) are homeless because of their mental illness.  And even the 48% does not mean that their mental illness was the exclusive reason for their homelessness (numbers don't add up to 100%).  It could be a combination of mental illness AND the lack of affordable housing, or the combination of mental illness AND substance abuse, etc.

See Exhibit 2.7:



SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Again, you're misstating the facts. 25% of the homeless have SEVERE AND PERSISTENT mental illness (26% according to the report you cited). A much larger number have mental illness.

Also, quoting from the report you cited, "These cities do not constitute a representative sample of U.S. cities, and this report should not be interpreted as a national report on hunger and homelessness." Further, you are misstating what the 48% means - it's not saying 48% of mentally ill homeless are homeless because of their mental illness. It IS saying that 48% of the HOMELESS have mental illness as a reason. So no, it's not 48% of the 25%. It's 48% of the homeless OVERALL.

Also, to think that anyone could have Severe and Persistent mental illness untreated and have that NOT be the cause of their homelessness is simply odd. It's really fair to assume that all of the 25% of the homeless that have severe and persistent mental illness are homeless BECAUSE of that mental illness.

Joe American wrote on January 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm

"The 23 cities that provided this information reported that 26 percent of their homeless population suffered from a serious mental illness."

"Approximately 20 - 25% of the single adult homeless population suffers from some form of severe and persistent mental illness.  While 22% of the American population suffers from a mental illness, a small percentage of the 44 million people who have a serious mental illness are homeless at any given point in time."

Mince those numbers any way you chose, dear, but ADD and minor bouts of depression aren't causing homelessness.  The studies both state "severe" for a reason.  That's the answer to your original question whether you like it or not, but you clearly seem to want that number to be higher.  And you're clearly not interested in discussing, so this is the end of our little fireside chat as far as I'm concerned.


SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 4:01 pm

26% suffered from serious mental illness. So that would be at least 10 times the amount of the general population - can you admit that you were wrong about that or not? So far you've failed to admit that you've confused several numbers and misstated their meaning.

To the 26%, add in the 1/3 of the homeless who are children, and the 13% who are physically disabled (by your study) and well over half of the homeless have at the very least significant factors beyond their choosing. That's not even including the developmentally disabled, either. Your own study states that 72% of the cities surveyed found that more housing for persons with disabilities was a top three effort needed to combat homelessness.

I was responding to the original "blame the homeless - it's their choice" argument. If you fall in line with that argument, then you're fine with lumping in well over half of the population who have little to no control over it with the few who do. It's not a significant majority who choose it - it's not even a majority (by your own cited study).

My issue is that people seem to confuse the convenient answer (blame the poor people - it's less work for me and then I don't feel guilty) with the correct one (there are a myriad of factors involved, and our society on the whole does a piss poor job of addressing them. We should really be working on this better, and this should be a bigger issue societally).

Also, not sure where the dear comes from. It's just kind of weird.

ronaldo wrote on January 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm

@Clarence, you need to re-read that study.  Your numbers don't add up..  It's stated that the 26% includes the both singles and families, and families include children last time I checked. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Yes, there is surely some overlap. But since 1/3 of the homeless are children (not families, from other studies) simply adding that with the 26% and discounting other disabilities as cause, it's fair to say that well over half aren't homeless by "choice." Don't you agree?

rsp wrote on February 01, 2013 at 11:02 am

Hold on here a minute. You do realize that 'the homeless" are not a group that just consists of just single people don't you? Those were the stats you were looking at. Single people. A third of the population consists of single people. So that stat is talking about that third. 

SaintClarence27 wrote on January 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

True, but it's still a huge contributing factor. I can only suppose that by "choice" you really mean "addiction."

Sid Saltfork wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Will the mayor of Champaign wear his huge fur hat again?  Will there be lawnchairs again?

I am not against a fundraiser for the homeless; but it seems hypocritical for people to have an overnight experience in homelessness.  We think of individuals with mental illness being homeless; but we avoid the reality of families being homeless due to loss of employment, and exhausted benefits. The homeless problem is not only individuals with mental illness.  How many people, and families are sleeping in their cars at night?  Saying that the homeless are the mentally ill is like saying that the welfare problem is due to lazy people.  Homelessness is now a socio-economic issue.  The Rich get richer; and the Poor get poorer.  Feeling what it is like to be cold, hungry, and wet for one night is a luxury for the Well Offs self image.  Donate the money; but drop the hypocrisy.

narciblog wrote on February 02, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Yes, help should be reserved for those that have made sensible life choices and deserve it. I guess those people can be identified by the fact that they are not homeless.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 02, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I am not sure what the defines deserving help.  I suppose that depends on each person's opinion who is providing help.  Sensible life choices do enter into preventing needing help.  However today; many people are homeless through no fault of their own.  Whether someone is homeless through no fault of their own, or their own fault; the reality is that they need help.  It is not uncommon now for families to be homeless.  I feel it is not my place to judge who deserves help.  It is my place to help those in need the best that I can. 

Morris wrote on January 30, 2013 at 1:01 pm

If all the people that were homeless with mental illness (or because of it) would go to aid centers and ask for help and then follow through with medication and programs this problem would be a lot less severe.  Same for the addicts.  Problem is, we live in a free society where people have to choose, or at least have the capacity to choose, to help themselves.  There is no legitimate way to force people to get better.

Our society needs to study homelessness to understand the causes.  I think we have done a lot of that.  Then we need to fund programs and safety nets to help those that can be helped.  We have done that too.  We can argue about how much has been done and how much more needs to be done.

These activists are raising a little money and some awareness of the issue.  That has some value. It certainly isn't a solution.

Nothing wrong with feeling good about helping others, even if it is in small ways.

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 03, 2013 at 7:02 am

You really know nothing about mental illness.

Morris wrote on February 04, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Your opinion of what I know is of little matter or substance.

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 04, 2013 at 8:02 pm

It's not opinion when you make ill-informed statements like, "If all the people that were homeless with mental illness (or because of it) would go to aid centers and ask for help and then follow through with medication and programs this problem would be a lot less severe." If you want, I could go through all of the ways this was wrong.

asparagus wrote on February 05, 2013 at 4:02 pm

What is so "ill-informed" about the assertion that many folks on the street need help but don't pursue it.  I've worked with the homeless at the TIMES center and I know this is a major factor.  I agree with Morris on this point.

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 02, 2013 at 11:02 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.

asparagus wrote on February 05, 2013 at 12:02 pm

You are right bulldog.  Unless these people are willing to become homeless themselves and stay out on the streets all year long their efforts are a complete sham, and an unseemly mockery of homeless peoples.

The homeless are a proud and noble people with their own traditions and culture.  We should not mock them, even if it is a misguided attempt to do good.  No good doing can justify this kind of repugnant self-sacrifice. 

I'm feeling the need to rant and so I am ranting about this for no good reason.  My hands are typing but my brain is taking a long smug walk through the garden of righteous political correctness.

These so called activists had better get a clue!

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 05, 2013 at 1:02 pm

"Self-sacrifice"  LOL oh the humanity

SaintClarence27 wrote on February 05, 2013 at 1:02 pm

People camp for fun. This is not sacrifice. And even if it were, sacrifice has to be productive to be bositive and worthwhile. Otherwise it's just stupidity. The problem with this is that it serves no purpose.

asparagus wrote on February 05, 2013 at 4:02 pm

It raises a little money and some publicity for the issue.  How is that nothing?

Why do you have such a chip on your shoulder?

If you keep up this ridiculous rhetoric you will likely be branded a troll.


SaintClarence27 wrote on February 05, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I certainly don't have a problem with raising some money (as long as its properly used). It's more the insulting nature of sleeping in a box - it has no purpose, and points to only one of the myriad of issues surrounding homelessness. Weirdly enough, the actual lack of a place to sleep inside iss only one of a TON of problems that the homeless face. When I said that it does nothing, I was not saying the charity does nothing - I was saying that the sleeping in the box does nothing. They could just raise money and NOT sleep in a box. That's why I said it has no purpose.

Additionally, I'm generally skeptical of any "raising awareness," such as with Livestrong, which is primarily a sham charity.