News Local/State

Decatur Nonprofit To Close Emergency Shelter For Teens


Webster-Cantrell Hall in Decatur is shutting down a residential program for at-risk homeless teens, saying it is no longer financially viable after the state Department of Children and Family Services reduced its funding.

Children and Family Services spokesperson Veronica Resa says the funding reduction for the Staley Emergency Shelter at Webster-Cantrell Hall reflects a reduction in the program’s size from eight emergency beds to five.

Webster-Cantrell CEO Martin Harris says the three-bed reduction was simply not financially viable for them.

“Because each bed on an annualized basis represents $100,000 in revenue,” said Harris. “So, to lose $300,000, they were basically forcing our hand to close. We had no other option.”

But Resa says here agency has already been making less use of the Staley Emergency Shelter, and that the average occupancy in recent months was just three. She says that was due to a new policy under DCFS Director George Sheldon, of moving towards greater use of home-based arrangements, like foster care, instead of institutionalized residential programs.

Webster-Cantrell’s Harris says the DCFS decision to make less use of residential programs like the shelter is a mistake. He says that’s because not all young people do well in foster care. In fact, Harris says a third of the young people in the other residential programs at Webster-Cantrell Hall come from what he terms “broken-down foster care placement.”

“What I’ve been urging is that there be a continuum of service delivery for kids in foster care placements, realizing that some of the kids being placed in foster care placements, given their behavioral health history, are simply not going to make it”, said Harris.

Harris said the Staley Emergency Shelter at Webster-Cantrell Hall houses teen-agers from all over Illinois. He said those currently in the shelter might be moved to the Chicago area when the program is shut down at the end of June.

But Resa says the Department of Children and Family Services is in talks to continue the emergency shelter program in central Illinois, with a different contractor.

A news release from Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker blames the closing of the emergency shelter program at Webster-Cantrell on the state budget impasse. But Resa says the decision to reduce funding reflects agency policy, not the state budget.

Resa also said the DCFS policy of reducing the practice of housing teens in institutional residential programs is here to stay. That’s even though the DCFS director who launched the policy, George Sheldon, has announced his resignation, effective June 15th, to take a job with a nonprofit organization in Florida. DCFS General Counsel Lise Spacapan has been chosen to serve as interim director until a permanent replacement is found.