Illinois Public Media News
A homeless community in Champaign appears to have a place to stay through the winter after several moves the last few months.
This weekend, cleanup will begin on 17 vacant rooms at Restoration Urban Ministries, with hopes that the residents the Safe Haven group can move in there in about three weeks. An agreement is being finalized between those two groups and Empty Tomb, which is providing the volunteers, including many contractors. The Safe Haven community was forced to leave the backyard of the Catholic Worker House in June when the city ruled its tents violated a zoning ordinance. The group has moved twice more since then, now staying in the parsonage center of St. Mary Catholic Church.
Empty Tomb's Sylvia Ronsvalle says many hours of work will be needed to bring Restoration's rooms up to code. "Plumbing issues that need to be addressed, there are holes in the drywall, there are water heaters that will have to be replaced," says Ronsvalle. "We have a donation of carpeting as well, since that will have to be replaced, and things need to be painted. So there's definitely work to be done." It's not known if Safe Haven will need all 17 rooms - but Ronsvale says it only makes sense to renovate them, so all of them will be available next spring when that group moves out. Area churches are securing the funds to collect the materials for completing the work in those rooms. Ronsvale estimates it will cost about $1,000 per room, with about $7,000 in donations collected so far.
The University of Illinois Fighting Illini basketball team is nearing the start of a new season. But because of a new edict from the coach, you shouldn't expect to get any practice updates from players who use the social networking site Twitter. Rob McColley of the Champaign-Urbana website Smile Politely reports for AM 580.
The advent of a potentially rough flu season means restrictions on visitors at at least one hospital in east-central Illinois.
Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville is forbidding anyone under 18 from visiting patients during the influenza season. Chief nursing executive Molly Nicholson says it's to protect both patients and visitors from seasonal flu or H1N1. As for adult visitors, Nicholson is asking people to exercise their better judgment.
"If they are ill, our preference would certainly be that they not be here as visitors. If they must visit, we will ask them to wear a mask and use proper hand hygiene as they are visiting the facility," Nicholson said.
Nicholson says social isolation is effective at keeping influenza from spreading, particularly among children. Provena United Samaritans is asking parents with appointments to not bring their children along. But Nicholson says the restriction does not extend to children needing treatment.
In Urbana, Provena Covenant Medical Center and Carle Foundation Hospital both say children are still allowed to visit except for certain departments such as the neo-natal unit.
A new approach to helping emotionally-disturbed young people is getting nine million dollars in federal money.
Champaign County's Mental Health Board is implementing a new effort called the Access Initiative with the help of the state Division of Mental Health. It's meant to bring families more into the process of assisting troubled youngsters, and it's especially aimed at African-American cultural sensitivities.
Peter Tracy is the director of the county mental health board. He says previous methods of treating those children have not succeeded over time.
"Office-based therapy has not often been really successful with that population," Tracy said. "The departure is that this is a kind of outreach program where services are brought to the client and family as opposed of having them go to the office."
Under the grant, those services would be funded on a per-child basis instead of as a lump sum. They hope to serve about 200 children and teens, with families helping determine what form that assistance takes.
As the national debate over health care ensues, the Illinois Supreme Court is considering a case over a Urbana hospital's tax status. The outcome, claim hospital officials, could lead to reduced medical services and higher prices.
Justices will have to decide if Provena Covenant Medical Center provided enough free or discounted care to poor patients to qualify as tax exempt. The state in 2003 determined the answer was no and forced the Catholic-run hospital to pay property taxes.
Assistant Attorney General Evan Siegel defended the state's action before the court. He says the year before, only 300 of Provena's 110 thousand admissions received charity care, not enough to deserve tax breaks.
"It doesn't matter whether an organization itself is charitable," Siegel told the high court. "What matters is whether its using the property for a charitable purpose."
But Provena's attorney, Patrick Coffey, argues the hospital qualifies because it cared for any and all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.
"It doesn't matter what amount of charity, here free care ... was given," Cofey said. "Free care was given without limit."
The court's decision has widespread ramifications statewide. If nonprofit hospitals have to pay taxes, there's speculation they would increase prices or cut back services. The high court is expected to issue an opinion in coming months.
The mayor of Urbana says the best way to provide Big Broadband service in Champaign-Urbana is to have city government run the system.
The Big Broadband project's application for federal stimulus money envisions a system where any and all service providers can share the infrastructure and compete against each other. But Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing says city government is best suited to provide Big Broadband --- Internet, TV and phone service --- to homes and businesses.
"Other cities have done this successfully", says Prussing, "and they're able to offer the customers a lower price --- and make money for the city, which benefits the customers as taxpayers."
Prussing says city government could get an exclusive lock on operating Big Broadband service by building and owning the final leg of optic fiber to homes and businesses. Except for about 46-hundred homes in underserved areas, that infrastructure won't be included in the first phase of Big Broadband now waiting for federal funding.
The idea was discussed at Monday night's Urbana City Council meeting. Prussing says her city --- with possibly Champaign joining them --- may hire a consultant to study the matter.
A Champaign city councilman is proposing a "family resource center" to provide services to residents of the city --- but especially to its northeast side.
1st District City Councilman Will Kyles says the need for a center to bring community services into the northeast side became clear to him in his work as outreach coordinator for Congressman Tim Johnson. He says the center could provide services and activities for children, teens, parents --- even ex-convicts trying to make a fresh start.
"We believe in structures, we need structures," Kyles said. "But the issue is that it'll take awhile to rebuild those structures, to redevelop the neighborhood. So in the process of redeveloping the neighborhood, why not have services that are building people up?"
Melorene Grantham of the Peer Ambassadors youth group told the city council a family resource center could provide activities for older teens that are currently lacking in the area. She says that's a need her group found out about from its monthly meetings with youth at the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center.
They said they need other things to do to stay out of trouble, like jobs," said Grantham. "We went every month for some years; that was the top thing they say would keep out of trouble."
Kyles says the city of Champaign could work with the community, and leverage state and federal funds to put the family resource center together. But he says it wouldn't happen right away. He hopes the idea can be included among the Champaign City Council's goals for the next 5 to 10 years.
After a year of training police and army forces in Afghanistan, members of an Army National Guard unit based in Urbana are back home.
About 80 members of the Urbana Headquarters unit of the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were welcomed home at the University of Illinois Assembly Hall last night. A brief ceremony featured an even briefer speech from Governor Pat Quinn. "We are proud of you Guard members. You're the best of the best, the pride of our nation, the pride of our sate," Quinn said. "May the will of the people be the law of the land, and thank you very much."
But the real highpoint came after the soldiers were dismissed, so they could rejoin their families. Sergeant Paul Ogwal of Champaign received flowers from his family, and a hug from his 5 year old son, Faraji. For the past year, Faraji's contact with his dad has been through phone calls and email, and during leave midpoint through the deployment. Ogwal says that sort of separation can be hard for a young child to understand.
"When I came back on leave I bought a globe," Ogwal said. "And I put his name on Illinois, and I had an arrow pointing to Afghanistan to help him picture where I was."
Another 20 members of the 33rd Infantry's Urbana unit rejoined their families in a ceremony earlier in the day in suburban Rockford. A Champaign unit of the 33rd returned home to Champaign last Friday.
Legal video gambling at Illinois taverns is expected to be in place next year, providing tax revenue for state capital projects and local governments. But some local governments have voted to opt out of video gaming. A Champaign County Board committee will consider such a proposal this fall.
The county board's Policy Committee will hold a full discussion on video gaming in November. But committee members heard both sides of the debate over the social impact of video gambling last night. Tom Fiedler of Melody Music in Champaign is president of the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, and he says research has shown legal video gaming adds little to a state's gambling addiction problem, thanks in part to strict limits on how many machines a bar can host. "It's a very low impact situation," said Fiedler. "It's not a destination type of thing. It's five machines. It's more for the casual player; it's a form of adult entertainment."
But University of Illinois Business Administration Professor John Kindt --- who's studied the economic impact of legalized gambling --- compares video gaming to crack cocaine when it comes to gambling addiction.
"When these come into a person's backyard, you're in fact doubling the number of addicted gamblers," said Kindt. "And among young people -- students in particular -- it's even worse. It goes up 200, 300, 400 percent."
The impact on students will mean more to the cities of Urbana and especially Champaign, where many bars specialize in serving students. But each city and village can make its own decision on whether to opt out of legal video gaming. Policy Committee Chairman Tom Betz wants local governments to act together on the issue, to avoid creating a patchwork of gambling and no-gambling areas in the county.
Champaign Police want to hear from neighborhoods in order to gear more officers towards crime prevention strategies.
Police Chief R-T Finney will discuss the strategy of 'problem-oriented policing' in the department's annual report before the Champaign City Council tonight. He says the discussions with residents in the past year have ranged from town-hall meetings with neighborhood associations to those focused on one or two blocks. Finney says the complaints start with traffic, but become more specific:
"They'll begin to point out issues other than speeding that really need to be addressed, said Finney. "Some of those issues are drug houses, inattentive landlords who are allowing crimes to occur in their houses, parks that may be affected by certain types of crimes. It may be something like a burglary spree that is occurring in a particular neighborhood."
Finney says often, the solution is as simple as putting up a fence at one home or increasing patrols at a business that sees more service calls.
He says the economy has forced the department to be creative as it shifts officers toward neighborhoods with greater problems. Problem-oriented policing started with meetings in the Garden Hills neighborhood and later moved to homes in the Hill and Church streets areas. Finney says he expects several more neighborhoods will come forth with concerns following tonight's presentation.
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