Sheltering families, strengthening families

There are homeless families in Champaign County.

This is a difficult issue for all of us to face. The homeless can be an unseen population, as not all who are homeless are sleeping on the street. Many homeless families couch surf, moving to and from the homes of friends and family. Some may sleep in cars. Champaign-Ford Regional Office of Education estimates that there are over 300 homeless school-age children in our community at any one time. That number could fill an entire elementary school. It's startling, and we know that these children are experiencing immense amounts of stress that can affect their ability to learn and succeed in school.

A gap in services exists as well, particularly for a single father with children - there's just no program that can help both him and his children. They would have to split up, and who would want to be separated from their family in a time of crisis?

There's hope. The recently launched Emergency Shelter for Families program, administered by Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, will allow families a chance to leave homelessness behind forever. A family will be housed together while they complete a plan for self-sufficiency with their case manager, addressing the issues that led to the loss of housing and helping the family develop a strategy to prevent the situation from happening again. The ultimate goal is for the family to leave emergency shelter for a transitional program or stable housing.

This pilot project has begun and will continue for one year, as we gather data and assess the demand and the structure of a permanent solution.

TODAY, our community is sheltering families and caring for our neighbors. TODAY, children are in school and not worried about where they'll sleep tonight. TODAY, a family has hope for a future without homelessness. We're so proud to be one of many partners that has worked to bridge this long-discussed gap in services.

Families requesting housing or agencies who wish to make a referral can call the hotline at 372-1137.