Despite Pandemic, Homelessness in Champaign County Rises Only Minimally in 2021, While Emergency Shelter Availability Improves

A couple of park benches

A total of 148 individuals were identified in Champaign County during the most recent Point-in-Time count, up eight from the 140 individuals identified through the count in 2020. The count was conducted by the Continuum of Services Providers to the Homeless (CSPH) on Thursday, January 28, with 25 volunteers in eight teams carrying out the unsheltered portion of the count with surveys across Champaign County. Those teams searched downtown Champaign and Urbana, Campustown, the shopping areas, Crystal Lake Park, and other areas throughout the County identified with the help of homeless service providers.

With the assistance of community volunteers, CSPH, a consortium of agencies and governmental units committed to ending homelessness in Champaign County, conducted the unsheltered Point-in-Time count of the area’s homeless population. Working in teams, the volunteers searched the community for individuals and families experiencing homelessness and gathered information about their housing situations. They identified two individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness from two different households, down from 12 individuals in 2020.

The sheltered count was conducted simultaneously, where 146 individuals were identified from 105 households. Of those individuals, 132 were sheltered in emergency shelters and 14 in transitional housing, 25% of them were under the age of 18, 7% were between the ages of 18-24, and 68% were over the age of 24. There were 37 children identified in the count. As was the case in 2020, no children were identified as living in unsheltered situations.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires the Point-in-Time count in order to provide a snapshot of the state of homelessness throughout the country. Congress then utilizes the data collected from the count to disseminate funds for homeless services. The count included people both sheltered (residing in emergency shelters or transitional housing for individuals experiencing homelessness) and unsheltered (living in spaces not meant for human habitation, such as cars or on the street).

“The Point-in-Time count is a tool to help in planning for services and programs to address local needs,” says CSPH Chairperson Jennifer Carlson. “It also measures our progress in decreasing homelessness and identifying gaps in our county’s homeless service system.” Adds CSPH Coordinator Thomas Bates, “The data collected from the count is used when applying for federal funds. We have also used similar strategies to track our homeless system’s COVID response.”

Concurrent to the Point-in-Time count, the Continuum also counted housing for people experiencing homelessness through the Housing Inventory Count. “This year’s count includes the return of year-round shelter for single individuals, along with a few projects operating with COVID-specific funding,” Bates explains. The 2021 Housing Inventory Count identified a huge expansion: 334 total beds, up 104 from last year. Most of these beds are in Emergency Shelters, where 85 new beds were added.

The Housing Inventory Count also tracks permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness. According to Bates, while emergency shelter has expanded, the Continuum has not seen the same rate of expansion in permanent housing, especially supportive housing. The CSPH hopes to work with area housing providers to increase the availability of permanent and supportive housing for people who are experiencing homeless, especially the subset of those identified by HUD as being Chronically Homeless—people who have a documented disability and who have been homeless for at least 12 months consecutively or 12 months cumulatively over four separate occasions in the past three years.

This year, 15 individuals were identified as meeting the chronically homeless definition, all of them single individuals.

Completed annually, these counts help local homeless service providers track progress towards ending homelessness in our community by measuring the effectiveness of existing services and identifying additional approaches for shelter and housing options.

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