Illinois Public Media News
A coordinator of a tent community for the homeless wants to turn the project into a full-fledged not-for-profit organization.
In the meantime, Abby Harmon is asking Champaign city officials to practice what she calls "a higher level of ethics" and let the Safe Haven community keep camping on the grounds of St. Mary's Church, at least until winter sets in. Harmon says city regulations forbidding camping ought to be revisited in tough economic times.
"The city has a housing crisis on its hands that it needs to recognize," Harmon said. "Given the housing crisis, there are times when the pre-existing city ordinance is not working for the people. When the law no longer works for the people, the law needs to be modified."
Harmon says in the long term, the Safe Haven group would like to purchase "micro-houses" to replace tents for homeless residents. She describes them as 8x10-foot pre-fab rooms with solid walls that can accommodate heaters. They'd be served by a common kitchen-and-bath facility. Some Champaign council members have criticized the tent community, which was forced to leave its first home at Champaign's St. Jude Catholic Worker House because it violates city codes.
Additions to the Champaign County Courthouse in Urbana are coming together, from the new clock and bell tower to some educational aspects inside the building.
People called for jury duty usually wait in a large room before they're summoned into the courtroom. While they're there, they can now step inside a small theatre in one side of the room and learn about Abraham Lincoln's fledgling legal career as an attorney who traveled through Champaign and other area counties. Cheryl Kennedy of the Early American Museum says the theatre is the most prominent expel of several current and future Lincoln displays at the courthouse.
"It's a great opportunity to use some of your time," Kennedy said. "And not only that, we envision more things on the walls out in the foyer, maybe some exhibit cases, and an opportunity to extend that experience past the audio visual program."
The Lincoln exhibits are being assembled as part of the 200th anniversary of the 16th President's birth. The theatre will be dedicated the weekend after next as well as the clock and bell tower as a part of the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival.
Champaign residents could start seeing more flyers on their cars and doorknobs soon, if the City Council goes ahead with plans to repeal a prohibition against the advertising practice.
Right now, only political and religious groups can leave a flyer on someone's doorknob in Champaign. And it's illegal to leave flyers of any sort on someone's windshield. But after a company that distributes such flyers argued that the ban violates the First Amendment, the council decided to revisit the issue. Council members unanimously endorsed ending the ban on doorknob flyers at Tuesday night's study session. But the council split 5 to 4 on ending the windshield flyer ban. For Councilwoman Marci Dodds, letting commercial handbills be plastered on windshields was too much.
"I don't have a problem with political and religious handbilling. I'm not fond of it because it just one of my pet peeves. But I don't see that commercial (handbilling) falls in the same category as that in the slightest," Dodds said.
But other council members said that the First Amendment wins out and that the council should repeal any law that they believe to be unconstitutional. Council member Tom Bruno said if Champaign resident gets an unwanted handbill on their car or door, they can exercise their own first amendment rights.
"I think a resident who gets an unwanted handbill should take the time to phone the business or the politician and say I'm really upset by this and I'm not going to do business with you," Bruno said.
The council will take a final vote on the issue at a later meeting.
The Urbana Champaign Big Broadband project took another step toward becoming a reality Monday night by winning the Urbana City Council's approval. The council passed two resolutions supporting the plan to launch a community-wide fast and affordable fiber-optic network --- starting with service to low-income and underserved parts of town.
On Tuesday night, the Champaign City Council will vote on the same resolutions that the Urbana Council approved the previous night -- support for the grant application and participation in a consortium with the University of Illinois to oversee the project.
Supporters of the project, known as UC2B, plan to submit an application for a federal economic stimulus grant that - if awarded - would provide 80 percent of the funding. UC2B plans to apply for a smaller state grant this week. Together, Urbana, Champaign and the University of Illinois would match the grants with about 2.4 million dollars of their own money.
UC2B organizer Mike Smeltzer says that because the project is spread over three years, the cities and the U of I don't have to pay the money out all at once.
"The federal government's not going to give us all the money at once," Smeltzer explains. "It's only going to give us money as we make progress, and as we show our match. So as long as we show up with a third of our matching funds, they'll give us a third of the money. And a year later when we need more money, we'll show up with a third, and they'll give us another match."
The supporters envision UC2B branching out to cover the whole community in the future. But the initial buildout would be just in the low-income underserved areas. A community survey has revealed that the territory that could qualify for the grant is smaller than expected --- covering just about 45-hundred people in Champaign and Urbana.
U of I Library Science professor Abdul Alkalimat (al-KAL-ee-mat) says he doesn't think the smaller size will hurt UC2B's chances of winning government funding.
Because it makes it a smaller project, and therefore, from the state level, they could include us at a lesser cost, therefore others might have an opportunity. So in this sense, we think it won't hurt us, it will help us."
The state grant application must be submitted by Wednesday. The federal grant application is due on August 14th.
The Safe Haven Tent Community will leave the back yard of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House by the end of July. But Safe Haven and its supporters hope to convince Champaign city officials that semi-permanent housing is better than no housing at all --- and that they should be allowed to stay somewhere in the city. AM 580's Jim Meadows reports.
Lots of remote employees and nomadic freelancers work without a place they can call an office. But an Urbana company is stepping in to fill the niche and get local entrepreneurs back in desk chairs in a trend known as co-working. AM 580's Marrissa Monson visited co-owners Lucy Cross and Susan Potter (left).
Residents and supporters of a tent community for homeless people made their case to the Champaign City Council Tuesday night.
Neighbors of the St. Jude Catholic Worker House in Champaign had complained about disorderly people living outdoors in tents. But Catholic Worker volunteers say the tent residents now enforce rules banning such behavior. Jesse Masengale is one of about a dozen people living at what has become the Safe Haven Tent Community on the Catholic Worker House grounds. Addressing city council members Tuesday night, Masengale said, "We have established agreed-upon rules, policies and procedures. We have the benefit of following rules already established by legal tent cities from across the country."
One such tent city is Dignity Village, which the city of Portland Oregon recognizes as a transitional housing campground. Supporters of Safe Haven say Champaign city officials could do the same. But Councilwoman Karen Foster says the tent city worries the neighbors and clearly violates the city zoning code. She says it should go. "If they are in need of housing", says Foster, "then -- like we did with the Gateway people -- we can try to work with them to try to find them affordable housing."
Fosgter referred to the crisis that residents of Gateway Studios suffered in May, after the owner failed to pay utility bills and the property closed down. But Safe Haven supporters say that incident illustrates a shortage of affordable housing that the city needs to address.
Council members Mike LaDue, Deb Feinen and Will Kyles said they'd be willing to meet with people from the Catholic Worker House and Safe Haven. But Foster and City Manager Steve Carter say Safe Haven residents will eventually have to fold their tents.
Ameren is planning a summer of public input as it proposes a new high-voltage electric transmission line around Champaign's western and southern outskirts.
The 138-thousand volt line would link substations in Bondville and Champaign's south side and would bring more capacity to the area around the University of Illinois campus, including the future Blue Waters petascale computer project.
Marty Hipple is supervising the planning for the line. "It provides capacity to serve that future load that's forecasted, and it provides a loop in network transmission to improve the reliability of existing transmission," Hipple said.
Doni Murphy, a planning consultant working with Ameren, says lists of "sensitivities" will be drawn up so that those planning the route of the new line can watch out for them. "Existing developments, proposed developments, whether they be residential, commercial or what have you," Murphy said. "And often times you'll see the traditional environmental considerations like wetlands, archaeological and cultural sites, protected species habitats, things of that nature."
Ameren says it will hold open houses and meetings with local officials to find three recommended routes for the line. The utility would submit those proposals this winter to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which would decide if and where the line would be built. Ameren hopes to finish it by 2014.
Starting Thursday, Champaign-Urbana will have two farmers markets.
The parking lot just north of Champaign Police headquarters will be the site of the North First Street Farmers Market every Thursday afternoon and early evening. Its coordinator, Wendy Langacker says it's not meant to compete with Urbana's long-running Market on the Square Saturday mornings - instead, it's meant to put fresh food within walking distance of a neighborhood where it's been hard to find in the past.
"For a lot of people in this neighborhood it might be difficult," Langacker said. "Even for people who live across the (CN) tracks, in downtown condos and apartments, it's still a ways away. So it's a nice way to bring fresh food to people in this downtown area."
Langacker says 26 vendors expect to have booths at the market, including a few merchants from the North First Street area. The farmers market will also include entertainment each week. Its 11-week run wraps up at the end of August.
Supporters of relocation aid for tenants who are forced to leave condemned buildings took their case to the Urbana City Council last Monday night. The idea was sparked by the sudden closures recently of apartments in Rantoul and Champaign, after their owners failed to pay utility bills.
Danielle Chynoweth of Champaign-Urbana Citizens for Peace and Justice says that in such cases, the city should provide emergency funding to help displaced tenants find new housing. The former Urbana alderwoman says the city could recoup the money through fines on landlords whose negligence led to the shutdown. Chynoweth says there's little danger of the landlords being unable to pay.
"The first question the Council should ask its staff is how many condemnations have happened against landlords that were bankrupt," Chynoweth told the Council. "I think you will find not very many in Urbana. So in most cases, you'll have recouped the costs."
But Urbana Neighborhood Services Director Libby Tyler says the proposed level of relocation assistance --- at least 2-thousand dollars for each displaced tenant ---- is too expensive for the city. "You can imagine situations where a municipality would not be able to afford to condemn an unsafe building, would not be able to afford the relocation costs," Tyler said.
She also worries that money might sometimes go to tenants who don't need the help. Tyler says Urbana will work with Champaign and other agencies to create a coordinated plan for helping displaced tenants. That plan could be ready in the fall. Meanwhile, Tyler says Urbana already has a small fund for tenant relocation assistance, and the city may look for ways to boost it.
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