CHAMPAIGN — It took months of community meetings, but homeless men of Champaign-Urbana will finally have a temporary place to sleep out of the cold seven nights a week, starting Friday.
Two Champaign churches, Faith United Methodist and First Presbyterian, will be opening as overnight winter emergency shelters and share the service between them.
The Methodist church will serve as the shelter on Friday and Saturday nights, and the Presbyterian church will open as the shelter Sunday through Thursday nights.
Repair estimates at a third Champaign church that was also willing to serve as the winter shelter, New Covenant Fellowship, came in too high, according to those involved with the planning.
New Covenant was the preferred location, because it was available seven nights a week and in the heart of downtown, most convenient to the homeless, but it needs code updates to serve as an overnight shelter.
"We don't want to delay any longer," said the Rev. Sheryl Palmer, pastor of Faith United Methodist Church.
The pastors and others met Tuesday to begin working out arrangements, but a few details — among them arranging transportation from downtown to the Methodist church in south Champaign — remained to be worked out before Friday, according to Beverly Baker, director of community impact at United Way of Champaign County.
No transportation will be needed to the Presbyterian church, since that's within walking distance for the homeless in downtown Champaign, she said.
Plans call for the winter shelter at each church to remain up and running through mid-March and to house up to 30 men.
Palmer said Faith United Methodist is shifting some programs around to make space for the shelter and, after putting out an appeal Sunday, has already had five volunteers step up to help out on Friday and Saturday nights.
"We had a great meeting this morning, and we're very excited," she said.
Chuck Carlson, interim pastor of First Presbyterian of Champaign, said his church is also taking some steps to get ready and create a secure shelter. He estimated hosting the shelter will raise heating bills by about $1,200 a month, but said the church is willing to absorb the cost.
"I'm just thrilled this congregation is open to it, and the leadership said yes," he said. "We feel it's the right thing to do."
Baker said New Covenant is still "in the conversation" for this year as a shelter location.
But pending resolution of its structural issues, "we're putting our eggs in the two baskets we have now," she said.
The winter shelter at the two churches will operate with paid staff funded with money provided through United Way, with volunteers helping out. The Methodist church has already hired the four staff members, and they'll work at both churches, Palmer said.
The church shelters won't serve meals, but she hopes to be able to provide snacks and possibly sack lunches to provide the men when they leave in the morning, she said.
Meanwhile, with outdoor temperatures expected to continue in the 20s this week, the Champaign-Urbana Canteen Run will swing into action again, providing overnight shelter for the homeless at the Salvation Army Church in Champaign on Wednesday and Thursday nights.