UPDATED: Deep cuts this month for two homeless services


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UPDATED 7:06 p.m. Thursday

CHAMPAIGN — Strapped for cash as a result of Illinois' year-long budget logjam, Champaign County's mental and behavioral health agency Community Elements is being forced to make deep cuts in two programs serving homeless men and troubled youths.

The agency will close its Roundhouse residential facility for youth on June 10 and will shut down the remainder of the level 1 program at its TIMES Center for homeless men in transition on June 30, according to CEO Sheila Ferguson.

"We'll also close our meal service to the community July 1," she said.

Starting then, Ferguson said, the TIMES Center at 70 E. Washington St., C, will serve meals only to the men staying there, which at that point will include those in the second level, a 20-bed program for men farther along in making transitions to independent living.

To help save money, Community Elements already cut level 1 at the TIMES Center in January from 50 beds to 25 and reduced staffing by 12 jobs, six of them full-time.

With this further closure and plans to close Roundhouse, she said, full-time staff members working at those facilities will be transferred to other positions in the agency but the jobs of some others who fill in as needed will be affected.

Roundhouse is a temporary supervised shelter for youths 11-17 who have run away from home or are homeless that provides supportive services and strives to reunite these youths with their families. It currently has only one resident, according to Ferguson.

Three staff members will continue to work with families of runaway and homeless youths at Community Elements' headquarters in Champaign while the agency looks for possible solutions to reopen Roundhouse at a later date.

Staff members have been told about the upcoming changes, she said. Men being affected by the changes at the TIMES Center will be told today, and staff members will work with them over the coming weeks to try to help them find other solutions, with no new admissions accepted.

"They'll have the rest of this month to work on self-sufficiency plans," she said.

Both closures stand to have an impact in the community, Ferguson said.

For the TIMES Center, she said, "I think the loss of the transitional beds will be felt. We just don't really know how much."

Closing Roundhouse "will probably put a burden on law enforcement and other organizations that have been able to bring kids there that are runaway or homeless," she said. "I know that that's going to be a burden."

Community Elements started its fiscal year with an $8.3 million budget and was immediately coping with $1.1 million in state budget cuts. On top of that, there have been cuts in federal funding, the most recent of which was a critical loss of $40,000 the agency just learned about a month ago, Ferguson said.

It's currently running about $200,000 in the red, and the situation would be worse if cuts hadn't been made earlier in the year, she said.

Community Elements is in the midst of finalizing a merger with Rosecrance, a not-for-profit behavioral health system with more than 30 locations in the Rockford and Chicago areas. Rosecrance is the largest provider of residential substance abuse treatment services for teens in Illinois and has one of the state's largest adult inpatient campuses.

The pending merger with Rosecrance is connected at least partially with the Roundhouse closure, though in an unexpected way. Community Elements — which is merging into Rosecrance and won't be considered the surviving agency in the merger — has run into significant barriers with the state in trying to transfer the Roundhouse license to Rosecrance, and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services won't allow it to be maintained locally, Ferguson said.

"We've tried multiple ways to have them (DCFS) assist us with maintaining the license locally," she said. "Since we're unable to maintain the license locally, it's compromised the federal funds, or it made us unable to maintain the federal funds, so that, coupled with the state not paying the state portion, made it impossible for us to maintain it."

The merger with Rosecrance — intended to help Community Elements further build out its behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services — remains on track, though, with plans to announce a new name for the local agency at the end of the month, Ferguson said.

Up and down funding

$7.4 million: Community Elements' annual budget in 1998, the year the TIMES Center was developed as a replacement for the Men's Emergency Shelter, with the new facility opening in 2000.

$11.4 million: How much the agency budget was in 2005 when it was restructured to focus on Champaign County core services. Its affiliation with the former Provena Health (now Presence Health) ended that year and services in Vermilion County were transferred to other agencies.

$7.3 million: About how much this year's budget is, after several years of declining funding.



Debra Pressey is a reporter covering health care at The News-Gazette. Her email is dpressey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow her on Twitter (@DLPressey).