News Local/State

Champaign Churches Join Forces To Help Homeless During Winter

First Presbyterian Church in downtown Champaign

First Presbyterian Church in downtown Champaign Wikimedia Commons

Champaign’s faith-based community has a short-term plan for two churches to provide overnight shelter to homeless men during the winter months. The leadership team at First Presbyterian Church recently agreed to allow up to 30 men to stay there Sunday through Thursday nights, with Faith United Methodist Church serving the same role on Friday and Saturday. But conversations for a permanent site are ongoing.

The arrangement between the two churches will start the second week of January, and runs through March, operating from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.

First Presbyterian Interim Pastor Chuck Carlson says the state budget impasse has brought together the faith community, and organizations like the United Way, to seek a permanent solution.

“Long-term, this group really would like to find a permanent piece of property where we could raise money in support of the location during every winter," she said. "We’re seeing ourselves right now as kind of transitioning into hopefully that. Especially with the state money pulled from TIMES Center, and the same with Salvation Army, which has really impacted our community.”

Carlson says the interim plan also helps those dealing with alcohol addiction, providing a ‘wet shelter’ at his church, with trained professionals whose salaries are paid by Faith United Methodist.  Shelter organizers would like to remain downtown, where First Presbyterian is. 

But that church’s shuttle service, and one provided by Savoy United Methodist Church, will help Faith UMC transport the homeless to its Prospect Avenue location on weekends.

Faith United Methodist's Director of Church Administration, Doug Abbott, says homelessness was identified as a key issue at a Methodist conference earlier this year. And he says the shelter marks a shift in where the staff directed its efforts.

“We’ve built homes in Juarez, Mexico and we’ve always sort of prided ourselves on being an outreach sort of church," he said. "But we hadn’t done a lot of things directly, locally. And we identify the homeless issue as being large in our community.”

But Abbott says his church is limited in week with the number of days it can hold the shelter each week, since there’s a preschool in the building, and Bottenfield Elementary School nearby.

New Covenant Fellowship Church in Champaign is the preferred downtown site for a homeless shelter, but the building needs some required fire safety code upgrades.

Co-Pastor Renee Antrosio says the staff is working with fire alarm companies and other professionals to complete that work. The United Way may help fund those upgrades.