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Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2008 05:04 pm

Sending out another SOS

Advocates for the homeless seek crisis shelter, plan community meeting

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Each weekend, Earl Wilson and about 40 other homeless people are left without any place to keep warm from around 7 a.m., the time they must leave the Springfield Overflow Shelter, to 9 a.m., when Lincoln Library opens. On an exceptionally chilly Saturday last month, they hoped one of the homeless service agencies would extend its hours until they could go keep warm in the library. When that didn’t happen, they just toughed it out. Wilson says he had the option of going to a friend’s house, but didn’t feel right leaving others who had no place to go. Later that day, he e-mailed Barb Olson, a volunteer with Homeless United for Change: “Once again people that we are depending on are letting us down. . . . Red tape and bureaucracy keep us out in the cold, heat, and other elements until it gets ready, but the need is now, not when they get ready,” Wilson wrote. Linda Justice, who is also homeless, puts it plainly: “Just to put people out on the street at a given time is not fair,” she says. Olson credits local agencies that, she says, have been very generous in serving Springfield’s estimated nearly homeless 300 individuals, but gaps nevertheless remain.  “People don’t know about those living in the dark, back corners of the street. They are the most needy,” Olson says. “For everything that’s been going on since last year, the homeless situation is precisely the same.”
Now, advocates for Springfield’s homeless plan to meet later in the month to launch a campaign to open a warming center and full-time crisis shelter before the end of March when the SOS closes. Olson envisions that homeless people will play a hand in the planning and operation of the facility, which would include space for women, children, and families, as well. The goal is an ambitious one, however. The Salvation Army, where the SOS is housed this winter, has been searching for a new home for more than three years, and it’s reasonable to expect that another group will face similar zoning issues and resistance from neighbors. Diane Hughes, a Springfield peace-and-justice activist doesn’t anticipate that the proposed shelter will draw the same obstacles as the Army, which she says has very different needs. The purpose of the January meeting is to bring as many people together as possible to flesh out such issues, she adds. The meeting will take place at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, at First Presbyterian Church of Springfield, and will feature a panel presentation by homeless people. Earl Wilson, who has agreed to sit on the panel, has already written his talking points: “If the weather gets bad right now and it snows 15 inches, then what?” he asks. “We are in need for a whole bunch of different facilities. One for the mentally disabled homeless, and one for — let’s say — the less mentally disabled. Because we’re all mentally disturbed to some degree.”

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


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