As far back as the 1990’s, the need for emergency family shelters was identified. The need became more prominent recently with the increase in homeless children reported in the point-in-time surveys and observations from the two local homeless funding/networking bodies: the Council of Service Providers to the Homeless and the Champaign County Continuum of Care. The City of Champaign previously committed up to $50,000 in seed money to assist in the creation of an Emergency Family Shelter. The City was the first partner to offer a resource for this need and the United Way of Champaign County, also a member of the CSPH, pulled together a steering committee with the Cities of Champaign and Urbana, Austin’s Place Emergency Shelter for Women, Regional Office of Education, Department of Children and Family Services and former homeless agency staff to identify possible solutions.
The steering committee crafted an RFP for the United Way to provide case management services for a shelter model similar to the Austin’s Place Emergency Shelter for Women that was now in its sixth year of operation. The original model site in Urbana fell through and the RFP did not receive enough response. The steering committee recommended a temporary model to offer shelter with motel vouchers and intensive case management and the United Way approved the plan in January 2013. Regional Planning Commission (RPC) was awarded the case management contract and oversaw the entire process (intake, motel negotiations, follow-up placement, etc). During the period of February-July 2013, RPC assisted 26 families with 17 families successfully transitioning from homeless to another stable housing option. The 26 families consisted of 32 adults and 55 children. This model was not considered to be sustainable but was a temporary solution to help with families in crisis while a sustainable model could be developed.
During this temporary model period, the steering committee continued to identify possible sites and partners. Another building in Urbana was identified, this time vacant and in need and partnership opportunities led to the Housing Authority of Champaign County (HACC) as a possible co-owner of the facility. After a tour of the vacant building, the HACC staff suggested another site at Urban Park Place, or 302/306 East Park Street. The HACC is in the process of acquiring this site from the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Coincidentally, the Cities of Champaign and Urbana provided funding for this site (302/306 East Park Street) when the Urban League of Champaign County acquired it in 2005. The site consists of two apartment buildings containing 24 apartments. One building is now vacant because of a leaky roof with substantial damage inside. The buildings are under control of IHDA. HACC and IHDA negotiations led to IHDA offering a permanent supportive housing grant to HACC to renovate the units and in return HACC will provide up to 14 permanent supportive housing units. The HACC was also scheduled to assume an IHDA Trust Fund loan for the acquisition of the property.
On Thursday, October 17, the HACC staff and consultant, Cindi Herrera, presented the HACC board with an alternative option of paying cash for the building instead of assuming the IHDA Trust Fund loan. This would allow the HACC to then use the remaining 10 units for housing as they determine needed for the community, including as an Emergency Family Shelter option. The board members expressed support during the October 17 study session and a resolution approving the purchase of the building will be placed on the October 24 regular meeting agenda. Once approved, HACC staff estimates six months for full renovation of the vacant building, relocation of existing tenants to the renovated building and then work would commence on the building that would become an emergency family shelter with an estimated opening of November 2014. The Cities of Champaign and Urbana, United Way, and HACC will begin working on the details of the shelter in the coming weeks and discuss options for sheltering this winter while the renovation work is underway