News Local/State

Winter Men’s Shelter For Homeless Starts Operations

Faith United Methodist Church's Centennial Hall, site of the winter men's shelter on Sunday thru Thursday nights.

Faith United Methodist Church's Centennial Hall, site of the winter men's shelter on Sunday thru Thursday nights. Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

An overnight winter shelter for homeless men begins operations Friday night in Champaign, and will function through the end of March. The collaboration between the faith-based community and a number of local agencies was due in part to the state budget impasse, and the result of months of planning. 

Hosting a winter shelter for the homeless is a first for Champaign’s Faith United Methodist Church, which will provide overnight lodging on Friday and Saturday night for up to 30 men.

“In the fall, we engaged in a study and decided we need to figure out where we could be more engaged in our community here," said Rev. Dr. Sheryl Palmer. "And homelessness rose to the top, and we engaged in the conversation, and here we are.”

Meanwhile, First Presbyterian Church in downtown Champaign will provide shelter Sunday through Thursday nights.

Emergency shelters that were lost due to funding cuts in 2016 include those hosted by the Salvation Army, and TIMES Center. 

Conversations on where homeless men could stay this winter started in May and June as agencies sought out ways to do this without relying on state or federal funds. 

To find a solution, a panel was organized by the Council of Service Providers to the Homeless, a consortium of more than 30 city governments, social service groups, churches, and agencies like the United Way of Champaign County. 

Beverly Baker is its Director of Community Impact.

“When we realized that none of our existing service providers had the capacity or the ability to provide the shelter for men this winter, we had to put on our creative thinking caps then, and determine else we could do, and what this might look like," she said.

Austin’s Place, which provides emergency shelter for women in Champaign, also provided input.

First Presbyterian has helped before, serving as an overflow shelter for the TIMES Center from 2006 to 2009.

"They really just want someone to listen to them," said church Facility Manager Chris Penny, who helped with a few of the earlier ones. "They just want to be accepted really. They were more gracious, just to have a place to lay their head at night, not have to worry about being cold."

Interim Pastor Chuck Carlson says for this shelter, four staff hired by Faith UMC, whose salaries are paid through donations, will be staying with those at the shelter.

“It wasn’t just us working with the TIMES Center this time, and providing our own volunteers to staff it, but we were actually bringing in people who are paid to do this, and they’re professionals, and know how to work with the system," he said.

Rev. Dr. Sheryl Palmer of Faith United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church Interim Pastor Chuck Carlson discuss shelter plans Thursday at First Prebyterian's Centennial Hall.

Photo Credit: Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

Savoy United Methodist Church will provide transportation for the homeless men when the shelter shifts from downtown to Faith United Methodist on weekends. The United Way is coordinating the $35-thousand budget for the shelter, running through the end of March. 

Meanwhile, The Council of Service Providers to the Homeless will compile data over the next several weeks to get an idea of long-term needs for a shelter in the community, and securing future federal Housing and Urban Development funds.   

As for the future of state funding with Illinois’ impasse now at two years and counting – and no state dollars for social services after stopgap funding ran out at the end of the year, United Way President and CEO Sue Grey expects community partners to feel the crunch.

“It’s very disappointing.  And everybody wants to point fingers, but I always use the example, my grandmother always said to me, when you point a finger at somebody, there’s three pointing back at you. And so, what is your role in this, and how can you help fix it?”

Grey says United Way leaders from across Illinois will meet soon to talk about what social services are most at risk, and what the organization can do to help.