Dozens await opening of low-barrier winter emergency shelter

Local News

Meanwhile, two local doctors propose permanent solution

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) As temperatures continue to drop, dozens in Champaign-Urbana are living on the street.

County leaders tallied 35 people as of Tuesday, and that’s not including those who have access to housing at the existing homeless shelters.

A permanent low barrier shelter– meaning it would be open to anyone — has been a discussion for years in Champaign County. One of the first steps toward making that reality happened Tuesday but it’s still a long way out. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) In the meantime, CU at Home is preparing to open an emergency option for this winter as soon as possible.

Danielle Chynoweth is the chair of the steering committee that is overseeing the implementation of those two winter emergency shelters, one men’s and one women’s. They would be available 24/7.

“The folks who are going to be staying at the shelter are primarily struggling with drugs or alcohol or some chronic mental health issues, and it’s very important that they have a safe place to lay their head at night,” Chynoweth explained.

“The only time someone would be turned away is if there was a medical emergency or a crime committed.”

CU at Home’s existing facilities are sober shelters. The new emergency shelters would fill a need by catering to people who can’t stay there.

We asked Chynoweth how they can ensure staff safety.

“We’ll actually have two non-police security members at each location,” she shared, adding, there will also be a social worker trained in detox and de-escalation.

Faith-based organizations will likely provide the facilities but locations for the emergency shelter have not been finalized.

“The shelters will be totally LGBTQ inclusive, right, so based on the gender identity of the person,” Chynoweth added.

The Champaign County Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless voted to send out a letter of support for the project late Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve struggled historically with year-round shelter,” shared Thomas Bates, the Coordinator for the organization.

He said they have their eye on a similar, but permanent solution and that may come from a pair of local doctors.

“Having trouble being able to take care of the medical needs of my patients in the family practice clinic because they don’t have what they need to be successful has been incredibly frustrating, and so this is something that had been in the back of my mind for a long time,” shared Julia Rozier, one of two doctors behind the proposal for a permanent shelter.

While the winter emergency shelters are set to open in the next few weeks, Rozier’s plan would take much longer, likely another year at the least.

The doctors’ proposal also got unanimous approval for a letter of support. The letters emphasized collaboration between the two projects. Rob Dalhaus with CU at Home said those conversations were already happening.

The winter shelters could cost anywhere between $450,000 and $650,000. All of that money is expected to come from local governments.

Urbana City Council’s Committee of the Whole passed a motion to put in $50,000. The final vote is scheduled for next week. Champaign City Council will discuss spending up to about $300,000 Tuesday night.

The Champaign County Board hasn’t voted yet.

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