Champaign County seeks to count homeless population
On Jan. 26, volunteers from a Champaign County agency gathered at First Methodist Church in Champaign to go out onto the streets of Champaign County and conduct the annual Point-in-Time count of the homeless population.
The count is supposed to give the Champaign County Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless an idea of how many homeless people there are, said Katie Harmon, the agency’s director.
Harmon said the count lets the agency better understand what causes and exacerbates homelessness as well as how to better accommodate that population. But it is not meant to be a comprehensive exact count, she said.
“It's just a snapshot; it's two hours,” Harmon said. “What the volunteers are doing is the unsheltered count of people who they see out in the streets and then kind of in the next several weeks, agencies that have emergency shelters and transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness, they provide all of their data to me for people who have stayed in their shelter tonight.”
Nathan Alexander has volunteered with the homeless count four times over three years. This year, he led his volunteer group around campustown, but his group didn’t encounter any homeless individuals.
“You know, we don't always find a lot of people,” Harmon said. “Sometimes people have places that they maybe can stay temporarily with friends or family when it's colder, and that might not be the case during warmer weather. So, that can pose a challenge.”
According to last year’s count, approximately 137 individuals were identified as homeless.
While Champaign county has made additional efforts to better assist the homeless population, like the opening of a new homeless shelter – called Strides, some individuals said they still can’t get the help they need.
Zachary Holleman and his wife Jessica have been homeless for three months.
Zachary struggles with alcohol addiction and is unable to find work. The couple has been sleeping on the cold streets this winter.
“We slept on plywood in an alley with, like, four blankets, and then we slept under the PNC Bank in Urbana,” Holleman said. “We're just trying to make it."
He said his caseworker has not been much help because she hasn’t been working the last week.
“I'm trying to get to detox, and I can't get any help until she gets back,” he said.
Holleman and three other homeless individuals said they had never heard of the Point-in-Time count.