The TIMES men’s shelter is owned by Rosecrance, a not-for-profit corporation that primarily runs 40 drug and alcohol rehab centers in four states. In 2016 Rosecrance bought Community Elements, the agency that has in many ways acted as the de-facto community mental health agency for Champaign for 25 years. (They were formerly called Champaign County Mental Health). They operate with various city, county, state and federal grants as well as reimbursement from Medicaid and insurance.
Rosecrance shut down the TIMES men’s emergency shelter, except for the 20-bed transitional program. That leaves 30 or more spaces for cots completely unused. They also shut down the Round House, which provided services and beds for teens. The Salvation Army also shut down their men’s shelter this year. The TIMES center was built in part to be an emergency shelter, meaning “guests” don’t necessarily have to be in a program toward self-sufficiency. This type of shelter is not currently in favor with HUD, which was a major funding source for services in the past.
Different organizations believe in different approaches and serve different populations of homeless. This is fortunate because there are unique stories and unique needs. Thankfully since 1992 the community has had the Coalition of Service Providers for the Homeless (CSPH) trying to identify the most pressing needs and influence the creation of a variety of services. The CSPH meets monthly to discuss challenges, share best practices, and better coordinate local efforts.
Some of the safety nets in place are: Crisis Nursery (for children), Austin’s Place (for women), Courage Connection (for domestic violence), the Pheonix Center (for daytime services), and the Canteen Run (blankets, foods and rides for those on the street in freezing weather). These are not operated by the CSPH, but by individual 501(c)(3) corporations. This year CSPH helped the Regional Planning Commission open the Family Emergency Shelter.
With the closing of the 90 beds at TIMES center and the Salvation Army, the CSPH, including the United Way saw an immediate need for beds for homeless men and pulled together donations, volunteers and churches. This resulted in a patchwork, pieced-together solution of using two churches with four paid staff members. The men are given rides each night at designated times, from two different locations, to whichever church is open. This started on January 6 and is operating for three months on a budget of $35,000 from local individual, foundation, and Rotary Club and United Way donations. Everyone applauds the efforts to keep people from freezing this winter. But this closing of the TIMES has set us back twenty years to this makeshift solution that we used when the winter emergency shelter was operated out of McKinley Church.
How can we prevent this current atrocity from happening again? This $1.4 million building, that was paid for entirely with community and government money, is now legally in the hands of Rosecrance, a private corporation that has no intention of reopening it as the men’s emergency shelter for which it was built. Perhaps it’s time for our governmental agencies to form an alliance to provide mental health, homeless and detox services, so the assets stay in the hands of the community. But certainly it is time for the governmental agencies, the municipalities of the city of Champaign and Urbana and Champaign County to get Rosecrance to the table.
To get the TIMES center built, in 1999, the community appealed to the cities, the mental health board, our state senator Stan Weaver, and local businessman philanthropist Mr. Harrington, who donated the land. There were also considerations of zoning and neighbor acceptance to overcome. Now we are being asked to accept that that building will never be a men’s emergency shelter again, because it doesn’t play to the “core competencies” of the corporation that bought Community Elements. What’s to say it will even be used for the 20-bed transitional program in the future? There is a grassroots movement appealing to the governmental bodies to use their influence to get Rosecrance to the table to negotiate for the use of that building to remain dedicated to serving the needs for which it was built. You can sign the petition at www.tinyurl.com/opentimes123.