Homeless shelters year-round

Ron Jocelyn stacks mattresses Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, that will be used for a men's overnight shelter that will be open between Nov. 1, 2019, and April 15, 2020, at C-U at Home's facility at 70 E. Washington St., C. By Nov. 1, 2020, C-U at Home and Austin's Place women's shelter are set to offer overnight services year-round at this location.

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CHAMPAIGN — Two winter shelter providers for the homeless are working together on plans to operate at the same building and start providing overnight shelter all year long by late 2020.

For this coming winter, both the Austin’s Place shelter for homeless women and the C-U at Home shelter for homeless men will operate at their current downtown Champaign facilities. They plan to open for the season Nov. 1 and remain open through April 15.

But by Nov. 1, 2020, plans call for both to operate out of the C-U at Home building at 70 E. Washington St. However, before Austin’s Place can move in, remodeling needs to be done to create a safe, separate space for women at the shelter, agency leaders said Tuesday.

Kelli Kemper, an Austin’s Place co-leader, said Austin’s Place may be able to move into C-U at Home’s building before the end of this winter season, possibly in March 2020, if the construction is done by then.

If that’s not the case, Austin’s Place will remain at First United Methodist Church through April 15, she said.

Richard McElroy can attest to the need for year-round overnight shelter for the homeless in Champaign-Urbana.

The 55-year-old man is now living in an apartment after being on the streets for years, he said. But he’s experienced the impacts of both extreme winter cold and summer heat on his health.

He’s slept outdoors in weather as cold as 6 degrees below zero, McElroy said, “but the heat can do as much damage as the cold does.”

Austin’s Place, C-U at Home and the United Way of Champaign County are working together on the year-round shelter plan in anticipation of serving homeless people who now sleep in parks, abandoned buildings or wherever else they can find a spot when the winter shelters are closed.

Addressing this issue can help create a healthy and vibrant community for everyone, said Beverley Baker, director of community impact for the United Way.

“We’re only as strong as our most vulnerable citizens,” she said.

Not only that, Kemper said, “it’s the right thing to do.”

C-U at Home Executive Director Rob Dalhaus III said the community has been lacking a year-round shelter for too long, and it’s taken several years of work to get to this point.

“I can’t tell you how much faith has gone into this,” he said.

C-U at Home had already projected the annual cost of providing year-round shelter for only men would run about $200,000. Adding year-round shelter for homeless women will bump the projection up to $300,000 a year, Dalhaus said.

What statistics show

Funding sources for a year-round shelter are still being worked out.

Baker said this venture will need diverse funding sources and some community support.

She anticipates a request for shelter support will be made to the United Way’s board of directors soon.

Community options to help support the all-year shelter include donating directly to Austin’s Place, C-U at Home or the United Way’s annual giving campaign, Baker said.

Dalhaus said C-U at Home has already been running a campaign of its own called “The Hope Givers,” with a goal of recruiting 400 donors to each give $40 a month. Covering the cost of providing year-round shelter for both men and women would require about 600 donors at $40 a month each.

Exactly how many homeless people may be in need of a year-round overnight shelter in Champaign County is hard to pin down, but estimates range from dozens to hundreds based on the following:

— A local “Point in Time” survey done this past January to get a count of homeless people on a specific day found 99 households either with or without shelter space, Baker said.

— The men’s emergency shelter — which has about 60 beds plus some overflow space — last winter served 287 different men, Dalhaus said.

— Austin’s Place served 48 different women last winter. With its 10 beds, it hasn’t exceeded capacity, Kemper said, but there will be some additional beds for women once it moves to the C-U at Home building.

Information sessions set

Another big benefit with the move, Kemper said, is homeless women will have access to showers and laundry facilities at C-U at Home that the Methodist church doesn’t have.

Austin’s Place, traditionally run on volunteer help, will be adding a couple of paid staff members for this winter in hope of operating each night with one volunteer and one paid staff person, she said.

Austin’s Place — named for Austin Cloyd, a Champaign native who was killed in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting — will continue to operate under that name after moving into C-U at Home.

Austin’s Place is in the process of recruiting more volunteers for this coming winter, Kemper said.

Anyone interested in helping is invited to come to one of two information sessions set for 7 p.m. Oct. 10 and 10 a.m. Oct. 19 at First United Methodist Church, 210 W. Church St., C.

A different Methodist church — Champaign’s Faith UMC — has been administering the men’s winter shelter program for the past few winters and is handing over the administrative role to C-U at Home, Dalhaus said.