Low-barrier homeless shelters up and running in Champaign

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — Advocates for people without an address in Champaign-Urbana hoped the launch of low-barrier shelters this week will allow officials to hone-in on how to best serve people who are struggling and aren’t quite ready to make a change.

C-U at Home and five other local agencies (City of Champaign, the City of Urbana, Cunningham Township, the Champaign County Board, and the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission) have chipped in time and money to establish the shelters – one for men and one for women – at New Covenant Fellowship Church and First Presbyterian Church in Downtown Champaign. The churches will serve up to 25 men and 10 women.

The “low-barrier” moniker means people cannot use drugs or alcohol on-site. However, they will not be turned away if they are dealing with something like alcohol or drug abuse or a mental health problem. C-U at Home earlier had problems with that group causing problems at its main shelter on East Washington Street, leading to the need for this new church-based project.

C-U at Home Community Outreach and Development Director Rob Dalhaus III said people without an address can show up at the low-barrier shelters anytime throughout the night.

“The staff that we’ve hired has training in mental health, substance abuse, crisis intervention, de-escalation, experience working with those in a homeless situation,” Dalhaus said.

The shelters will also have hired security to keep order.

“We don’t want [the low-barrier shelters] to have this jail feel to it, but we also want to show those men and women who are coming in that this is a safe place,” Dalhaus said. “[The security is] not there to arrest anybody. They’re not there to harm anybody. I’ve been really impressed with the training they’ve received to be empathetic, to be kind.”

Dalhaus said the low-barrier shelters are set to run until April, coinciding with the cold weather. However he said officials are looking at how to make the effort work year-round. C-U at Home’s main office on East Washington Street accepts homeless people year-round, but it is not low-barrier.

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