Recent news that the City of Champaign Township is trying to open a low-barrier homeless shelter for men and women, called Strides, in the former Habitat for Humanity building at 119 E. University Avenue has invited a range of responses. While most people seem to agree that another homeless shelter is needed in our community, a few vocal dissidents object to having that shelter near their businesses, citing a reduction in property value. We think having a shelter near other emergency support services and providing support regardless of sobriety or religious beliefs is a good thing.
Although this past year has seen a slight decrease in the number of homeless individuals, (according to a count conducted by the Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless [CSPH] in January 2022), there was also a reduction in the availability of emergency shelter beds. There is simultaneously the ongoing problem of insufficient Rapid Rehousing, which provides short-term rental assistance and services to help individuals obtain housing quickly, and Permanent Supportive Housing beds, in which housing assistance and supportive services are provided to assist households with at least one member (adult or child) with a disability in achieving housing stability.
Earlier this year we talked about resources for surviving the current economy, and there are a number of social service programs to support affordable housing. But the services and shelter spaces available to homeless individuals and families in Champaign-Urbana remain insufficient. While it’s great that C-U at Home has been able to reopen and expand to offer year-round shelter for men and women, as we’ve previously mentioned, they are an explicitly religious organization and continue the dubious practice of sponsoring poverty tourism through their One Winter Night event. Critiques about religious motivations aside, we want to underscore how important and impactful the work of C-U at Home has been for our community. But as a sober shelter — one that does not allow people currently under the influence of drugs or alcohol to utilize — it’s not enough.
It’s gratifying to see local government step in and use some of the American Rescue Plan Act funding to provide support and services for vulnerable populations with no religious strings or sobriety requirements attached. Men and women will be admitted into Strides regardless of their sobriety status, although drugs, alcohol, and weapons will not be permitted on the premises.
We think the location, which is within walking distance of many of the other services and organizations, such as the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, both Carle and OSF hospitals, and the C-U at Home shelters, is ideal. And anyone who has been out in Downtown Champaign can see that it’s where many homeless individuals are choosing to stay.
We’d love to see the City of Champaign Township continue to expand their services and support for vulnerable populations. In particular, Courage Connection is the only organization offering shelter to individuals fleeing domestic violence. Shelter options for families with children are limited and will not be addressed by Strides. It is an important and much-needed great step taken by the City of Champaign Township, and we hope they don’t stop there.
The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.