Frigid winter has men's emergency shelter overflowing

Frigid winter has men's emergency shelter overflowing

CHAMPAIGN — A harsh winter has been heaping extra demand on local emergency shelter beds, and an extra, overflow site has opened for homeless men.

The men's emergency shelter housed at New Covenant Fellowship Church can hold up to 30 per night. Last winter, it ran below capacity, averaging 22 men a night.

Demand this year has been nearly double, with an average of 43 men a night seeking beds, according to Faith United Methodist Church, which hires the shelter staff.

Once that shelter hits capacity each night, the extra men are being sent to an overflow site that has been opened in a Salvation Army building at 502 N. Prospect Ave., C, according to the Rev. Sheryl Palmer, pastor of Faith United Methodist Church and a shelter board member.

"Fortunately, the Salvation Army was able to let us use their building, so we've hired additional staff, and we're sending 10-15 men to the Salvation Army almost every night," she said.

Palmer said she believes the money available to operate the men's shelter this winter will stretch to cover the extra staffing, but all funds will likely be depleted — meaning fundraising for next winter will start with no reserve.

"We're kind of just going on faith right now," she said. "We just made the decision to not turn people away."

The men's emergency shelter opened for the season this past November, earlier than planned, and about a dozen local churches, local Rotary clubs and grants from the cities of Champaign and Urbana are being used to cover staffing, insurance and building costs.

This shelter is scheduled to close for the season March 31, though Palmer said earlier in the winter the hope was to have enough money left to remain open past that date if necessary.

Faith United Methodist Church is appealing for more donations of snacks and beverages to give to the men staying at both shelter sites, Palmer said. Anyone who wishes to help with that is being asked to contact her church's office.

"If they're part of a faith community, they can encourage their faith community to step up," she said.

Financial donations to help make sure the shelter makes it through the winter would also be great, Palmer said.

She and Maj. Tom McDowell of the Salvation Army of Champaign County said the higher demand is likely due to the extreme cold this winter — compared with last winter, which was much milder.

"They hit their first real crisis the last week of December, that first real cold snap," McDowell said. "We've been open since then, and right now, we plan to be open through March. And that's because they're working with us to provide staff."

The Champaign-Urbana Canteen Run has been driving the men to the Salvation Army shelter site, Palmer said.

Barb Davies of the Canteen Run said three volunteers have been covering all that driving.

C-U at Home, which runs the Phoenix daytime drop-in center for the homeless in Champaign, has been staying open for 12-hour days when the temperatures dip to the single-digit range. It's providing a warm space for people to go from the time the overnight shelters close in the morning to the time they reopen in the evening, said the agency's executive director, Rob Dalhaus III.

"There's been a lot of folks from the community coming in and helping out," he said.