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Wednesday, April 2, 2008 08:38 pm

Lifeline

Two churches respond to homeless group’s SOS

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Homeless United for Change last week held a protest calling for emergency shelters.
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

Homeless United for Change this week announced that two downtown churches will provide temporary shelter whenever the weather turns nasty this month. First United Methodist Church, 501 E. Capitol Ave., and First United Pentecostal Church, 600 W. Monroe St., have agreed to open their doors to the homeless during thunderstorms or when the temperature drops below freezing, says HUC organizer Billie Aschmeller. HUC, which was formed in 2007, has criticized city officials for failing to have a contingency plan in place before the winter emergency shelter’s closing on March 31. Last week, members of the group protested the closing — and the lack of a comprehensive city plan for addressing homelessness — by setting up a brightly colored children’s tent on the Old State Capitol plaza. The small protest didn’t seem to impress one observer who described himself as homeless but didn’t give his name. “I think it’ll hurt us more than it helps,” he said. The two churches that agreed to provide shelter each has space for about 30 people, Aschmeller says. The just-closed SOS, which this year was based at the Salvation Army building at Fifth and Carpenter streets, provided as many as 50 beds. The churches will decide by 4 p.m. each day this month whether to open, posting the information at Helping Hands, the Salvation Army, and St. John’s Breadline. In February, the Heartland Continuum of Care conducted its yearly homeless count, which the organization must complete to receive federal grant money. The survey found 101 chronically homeless individuals, which the U.S. Housing of Urban Development defines as someone having a disabling condition and who has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years or has been continuously homeless for one year. Sandy Robinson, Springfield’s community-relations director, pledged the city’s support to HUC. “We’re going to work in whatever way we can to support it,” Robinson says.

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