Few places in C-U for homeless to escape elements
CHAMPAIGN — Jason Easterly spent Monday afternoon on a cot in the hallway of the Salvation Army Red Shield Center. He was comfortable.
"This is nice. Warm," Easterly said.
It was 8 degrees below zero outside. Easterly doesn't know where he'd be had he not gotten a ride to the Salvation Army's warming center.
"Probably in the hospital with hypothermia or dead," he said.
He usually bounces around, sometimes sleeping outside the Housing Authority of Champaign County office on Park Avenue. He's trying to get back into the Salvation Army's men's shelter.
Champaign-Urbana does not have a permanent emergency shelter, said Dan Davies, who was patrolling over the weekend and into Monday, giving rides to people with nowhere else to go. Homeless people can eventually find shelter at transitional housing centers like the TIMES Center or the Salvation Army, but only after applying and enduring a waiting period.
For the people who urgently needed to find a place to sleep this weekend, the warming center in north Champaign was among the few where those with nowhere else to go could get out of the extreme cold Sunday and Monday. Salvation Army Major Tom McDowell said the group opened it at the request of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency.
Davies, who runs a regular canteen route for the Salvation Army, said he and the others found at least two people who he doesn't think would have made it through the night.
"We found a girl that was literally going to camp outside TIMES Center all night because her boyfriend was in the TIMES Center," Davies said. "She didn't even have a jacket."
They've brought in about 20 people so far, he said. From his regular route, he knows others are out there. He hopes they have found a place to get out of the cold.
"We're hoping," Davies said. "A lot of people will do what they call couch surf, stay at a friend's house. Some people have some places that they don't want us to know about, and we don't go to those places obviously. But we've been out kind of patrolling, looking for them."
Davies said he has made runs like this in the cold before, but this week has been busy.
"It's not been to this extent," he said. "I think we've been blessed with some mild winters, and we're getting paid back now or something. A lot of people don't want to go in unless it's really severe."
Carmen Rondon slept at the Salvation Army warming center on Sunday night. Earlier in the night, she had eaten dinner at the TIMES Center but knew she would be sent away before long as it only houses men.
"I was actually going to cry to the people there to let me stay there," she said.
She thought about asking to stay in their hallway. Eventually, somebody told her she could get a ride to the Salvation Army warming center.
"I didn't have to cry or beg," she said. "I didn't want to cry or beg, but it was cold."
McDowell said the Salvation Army is prepared to keep the warming center open only as long as the extreme temperatures last. After that, they need to go back to housing the 46 men who stay every night at their transitional shelter.
"We have to shift back into what we're equipped to do," he said.
Davies said the cold temperatures expose a deficiency in Champaign-Urbana's available shelters.
"There are no emergency shelters in Champaign-Urbana," he said. "That's something we desperately need."
Champaign warming shelters
— Savoy United Methodist Church, 3002 Old Church Rd., Savoy
— Salvation Army Red Shield Center, 2212 N. Market St., C
Regular business hours
— Illinois Dept. of Human Services (Division of Rehabilitation Services), 1307 N. Mattis Ave., C
— Illinois Department of Human Services, 705 N. Country Fair Dr., C