Annual Count of Homeless in Champaign County Seeks to Ensure Crucial Services Continue for Community’s Most Vulnerable Citizens

A park bench

After a year heavily impacted by a once-in-a-century pandemic, an annual count of people experiencing homelessness in Champaign County will take place on Thursday, January 28. Mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and organized locally by the Champaign County Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless (CSPH), the Point-in-Time survey allows homeless service providers to track progress made towards ending homelessness in the community.

Unlike many Continuums across the country, Champaign County CSPH has notably expanded their services instead of reducing them. Since the onset of COVID-19, the CSPH has seen rapid growth by adding six new members since July 2020, bringing the number of organizations involved to 35. Meanwhile, Continuum-managed funds from the Illinois Department of Human Services Emergency Lodging Funds helped bring about an early return of year-round shelter, ensuring safe shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

“Our management of federal dollars from the CARES Act allowed us to bring in several first-time grantees to expand or start new programs,” explains CSPH Coordinator Thomas Bates. “The coordination of a workgroup to discuss shelter clients in Champaign County made it possible to connect those individuals and families to appropriate eligible homeless housing opportunities.”

The past year also saw CSPH:

  • Partner with the Housing Authority of Champaign County for a temporary preference into permanent housing vouchers for HUD homeless households who have been utilizing emergency shelter.
  • Advocate statewide and locally on behalf of the homeless community to ensure that federal funds are being spent in the most effective way possible in Champaign County, and that COVID-19 vaccine distribution is a priority.
  • Adopt a Memorandum of Understanding to expand their Coordinated Entry System and ensure they are reaching every population experiencing literal homelessness as defined by HUD.

The 2021 Point-in-Time count in Champaign County will take place starting at 6am on Thursday, January 28. Nearly 30 volunteers are currently signed up to help. Working in smaller teams than in past years, the volunteers will maintain social distancing and search the community for individuals and families experiencing homelessness while gathering information about their housing situations. All volunteers are required to wear masks, which are being provided by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District. All individuals experiencing homelessness found will also be provided with masks, those provided by the Corporation for Supportive Housing.

Congress utilizes the data collected from the Point-in-Time count to track the needs of people experiencing homelessness and to determine federal funding allocations for programs serving people experiencing homelessness. The Point-in-Time counts both sheltered (residing in emergency or transitional housing for individuals and families experiencing homelessness) and unsheltered (living in spaces not meant for human habitation, such as cars or on the street) people. In 2020, 140 homeless individuals (128 sheltered in emergency shelter or transitional housing and 12 unsheltered) were identified in Champaign County.

The Champaign County Continuum of Service Providers to the Homeless is a consortium of more than 30 non-profit and government agencies, faith-based organizations, and businesses committed to ending homelessness in Champaign County, such as the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, C-U @ Home, Cunningham Children’s Home, and Courage Connection. CSPH welcomes new members, including agencies, faith-based groups, businesses, and interested community members searching for rewarding volunteer opportunities. The Continuum currently meets on the first Tuesday of every month at 3pm online through Zoom, with hopes of once again holding in-person meetings later in 2021. Those interested in joining can contact Bates at 217-328-3313 or tbates@ccrpc.org.

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