URBANA — A group of local organizations serving the homeless in Champaign County is seeking proposals to provide “year-round and low-barrier” emergency shelter in the local community.
The Champaign County Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless — which includes dozens of local agencies that work cooperatively on issues affecting the homeless — has issued a request for proposals saying it has identified “a critical gap” in the local homeless services system.
The gap, according to the group, is a “year-round and low-barrier emergency shelter for single individuals.”
A low-barrier emergency shelter generally has minimal obstacles for entry.
The year-round emergency shelters for men and women operated by Champaign-based C-U at Home aren’t considered to be low-barrier shelters because they were converted to “sober” shelters in late summer — leaving the homeless who abuse drugs and alcohol without a place to stay.
“At this time, there are no emergency shelters for single individuals that maintain a low barrier to entry that complies with our continuum’s written standards,” said Breaden Belcher, co-chair of the Champaign County Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless. “There is a critical need for shelters that use evidence-based, trauma-informed practices focused on our most vulnerable.”
Belcher said the group has redirected the unused portion of a one-time $42,000 federal grant C-U at Home received — about $14,000 — with the intention of using that money to help fund a low-barrier shelter.
Belcher also said the continuum is looking to supplement, rather than replace, C-U at Home’s emergency shelters.
The continuum still wants to partner with C-U at Home, but also wants to redirect the federal grant money to a service provider that can serve a homeless population for whom there aren’t a lot of resources, Belcher said.
“That is a really difficult population to serve,” he said.
The continuum’s request for proposals is open-ended about where prospective providers of year-round low-barrier shelter may be found. There may already be existing services in the community willing and able to shelter the homeless in the community who aren’t able to secure shelter now, according to Belcher.
“We don’t necessarily know everyone who is out there in the community,” he said. “We know there are a lot of great people out there doing this important work.”
Thomas Bates, coordinator of the continuum, said the request for proposals to find another option for emergency shelter is also to help avoid a repeat of earlier this year, when C-U at Home paused its shelter services for several months for all who weren’t in line to secure more permanent housing through the Housing Authority of Champaign County.
The break in emergency shelter for other homeless people left local agencies scrambling to try and find alternative places for them to stay other than the streets.
“No one wants to repeat what happened last summer,” Bates said.
The Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless said proposals to provide emergency shelter in Champaign must emphasize evidence-based practices and trauma-informed care, use a “harm reduction” model, practice a high fidelity to Housing First concepts, be culturally competent and affirming of LGBTQ populations and engage with the continuum’s coordinated entry system as an access point — all required to qualify for federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, Belcher said.
Housing First prioritizes having a place where someone can feel safe and secure as the most basic need that must be addressed before other issues can be addressed, according to Bates.
Harm reduction models are aimed at reducing negative consequences or punishment, things “we know don’t really work all that well,” he said.
Several C-U at Home leaders were contacted for this story, but didn’t respond.
Aleta Keith, C-U at Home’s former managing director, replied to an email saying she had resigned last month and turned over her keys this past Friday.