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Wednesday, March 26, 2008 10:42 am

A final SOS

Advocates plan for next week’s closing of Springfield’s emergency shelter

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Homeless United Change members met earlier this week to map strategy.
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

As the Springfield Overflow Shelter’s final day in operation for the 2007-08 season draws near, it appears that a local homeless advocacy group’s goal to establish a full-time day center and crisis shelter by the end of March won’t happen after all. Setting up an oasis and emergency shelter was a formidable objective to pull off in just four months. But members of Homeless United for Change are confident that they’re making progress.
At a HUC planning meeting earlier this week, volunteers discussed a number of alternatives, including asking downtown churches to open their doors on a rotating or as-needed basis, or erecting a large tent for the 20 to 40 homeless people who won’t have a place to sleep once the SOS shuts down on March 31. “The minimum that we’re asking is a safe place on any given night when the temperature falls below a certain level, or the weather gets especially bad,” says Homeless United for Change member Barb Olson. As in most American cities, homelessness has been an issue for many years in Springfield. In their most recent annual homeless tally, the Heartland Continuum of Care, a consortium that distributes grant money to area homeless service agencies, found 379 adults and children living in area shelters and classified 101 individuals as chronically homeless. After the 2007 count, city officials implemented a case-management program for people who spent nights outside of Lincoln Library, rented storage lockers, and helped about 20 people find more stable housing. Then, in June, overnight campers were barred from the library plaza [see R.L. Nave, “Out of sight,” June 7]. While they struggle to find even a temporary solution to the closing of the winter SOS, volunteers from HUC say they feel “stonewalled” by the city. “I think the city sees us as against them. They don’t see that we’re trying to help our community and we want to help them help our community,” says Billie Aschmeller, who lived at the Salvation Army’s shelter until this week when she started a new job. Mayoral spokesman Ernie Slottag says he’s not aware of any special preparations the city is making in anticipation of the SOS’ closing on Tuesday. He says the police will enforce the prohibition against sleeping at the library by patrolling the area and if they encounter anyone sleeping there, officers will “help them along to a different area,” or issue citations if necessary.
“We don’t expect to have many problems with that,” Slottag says. Olson says she’s frustrated. “One of the many wonderful things that’s happened from working with the city for the past year is when we came up with a good idea, we felt that someone was listening. We would like them to participate in a dialog about what the plans will be when the shelter closes,” Olson says. “We’re looking for where the leadership is,” she says. “Where’s the beef? There’s a lot of talk, but when you open up the hamburger there’s nothing inside. It’s just dry. “They make announcements about these wonderful programs — and what programs? It’s just a snow job. We need a day center now.”

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com
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