On any given night, 215 people in Champaign County are homeless according to the Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless Point-in-Time (PIT) count as of Jan. 26 this year.
This is a sharp increase from the counts of 140 in 2020 and 137 in 2022.
Continuum of Care Coordinator Katie Harmon with the county’s Regional Planning Commission talked about the process of PIT counts, which includes surveys of various areas.
“During the last 10 days in January, we have around 30 to 40 volunteers, who receive training beforehand go out in the evening,” Harmon said. “We go out to identify different geographic areas where we know people are unsheltered, and if we come across somebody, we believe to experiencing homelessness, we ask they would they’d be willing to take a survey.”
The 2023 PIT count found “170 of the individuals were sheltered in some form of emergency shelters, 36 in transitional housing and 32 identified as chronically homeless.” Additionally, forty-nine children were identified in this PIT count.
Among 136 people in households without children, 72 were Black and 61 were white.
Harmon also mentioned the number of organizations in the county that work to combat homelessness. Throughout the city of Champaign, there are multiple shelters and soup kitchens, all listed on the city’s website.
One of the most notable soup kitchens is the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, which was formed in 2009. The soup kitchen serves approximately “153,000 meals a year to the hungry of Champaign-Urbana,” according to its website.
Daily Bread Soup Kitchen also listed on its website “the poverty rate for Champaign County is 23.4%, third highest in the state of Illinois,” per Eastern Illinois Food Bank data.
Volunteer Coordinator Lynn Hall emphasized that while homeless people are certainly among the guests at the Soup Kitchen, most of its visitors are not.
“We are helping the homeless, but that’s not really the majority of whom we serve at all,” Hall said. “We know that on any given day, 10 to 20 percent of those people we’re serving are homeless, but we serve about 350-430 hot meals on an average day.”
Hall said Daily Bread Soup Kitchen also allows anybody to come in regardless of income.
“You know, there are people who shouldn’t be coming and taking a free meal,” Hall said. “I can’t do anything about it, but I wish they wouldn’t.”
Another location mentioned by Harmon, the Strides Shelter, is a low-barrier shelter that allows people in need of a roof to stay there, if there is no violent history in behavior. The shelter has been around for about a year, opening in Dec. 2022, and Community Relations Coordinator Charlene Murray said Strides allows most people in.
“A low-barrier shelter quite frankly means that we accept much of anybody, we lower as many barriers as possible in order to get the most people in,” Murray said. “Our bottom line and main goal are to save lives; we are pulling people off the streets. [With] snowy weather, people can die out there, and we are trying to get those people to shelter.”
Strides operates through the City of Champaign Township and is the largest emergency shelter provider in town, providing about 64 permanent beds. It also has 20 emergency cots for people who may need to get in a bed right away, especially in poor weather conditions.
Not only does the shelter provide a roof for people in need, but also services to help get residents off their feet and push them towards accomplishing goals.
“We get some people who [could be] fresh out of jail and don’t have things like an ID,” Murray said. “For things of that nature, they can work with case managers, and we also bring in community organizations such as the Champaign Public Health, who can do testing for diseases.”
Murray mentioned the shelter has held a vaccine clinic in the past and will hold more in the future. Additionally, Strides brings in volunteer doctors and nurses who will aid with in-house appointments to care for some guests who may prefer to stay sheltered.
“The point of bringing programs and activities to the shelter is that folks have access to them when they might not otherwise,” Murray said. “Some of the other services we even speak directly to recovery, as well as meals. Over Thanksgiving, CU Church assisted with providing a Thanksgiving meal for our guests.”
Regarding the PIT count for 2024, Harmon mentioned that it is approaching quickly and that those who work on it will meet in January to review the survey questions. The new count will take place on Jan. 24 next year.
The homeless services program at the community services division also has a rental assistance program.
Champaign Unit 4 Schools defines homelessness as “living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations or similar settings.”
Its data shows ninety-eight homeless families. According to the Illinois Report Card on schools, 1.2% of students are homeless in Champaign County. The school district is mandated to acquire this information under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.