CHAMPAIGN – Local homeless shelter C-U at Home has rejected an offer from the City of Champaign Township to buy its building near downtown Champaign.
Yet the Township still has its eye on buying the property to use for a new, emergency homeless shelter called Strides.
On Sept. 20, the Champaign City Council, in its capacity as the Champaign Township Board, approved a resolution for the Township to begin the process of purchasing C-U at Home’s current location.
Located at 70 E. Washington St. in Champaign, C-U at Home – a Christian-based ministry with a mission to help homeless people — is among the potential shelter locations Township leaders have said they are considering buying.
The Champaign County Habitat for Humanity ReStore building at 119 E. University Ave. in Champaign is also among the buildings the Township is considering purchasing.
C-U at Home Executive Director Melissa Courtwright said C-U at Home and the Township’s Strides shelter have different building-related needs based on the clients they aim to serve.
While the Township is looking to create a congregate shelter with shared living spaces, C-U at Home wants to create more private spaces for its “mid-barrier clients,” she said.
She defined mid-barrier clients as people who “may not necessarily be sober or have all of their mental health needs addressed” but want to work toward sobriety or better their mental health.
The Strides shelter, however, will be low-barrier, meaning that people won’t be denied services if they are dealing with substance abuse or mental health problems, Courtright said.
“I think of low-barrier as a place where individuals oftentimes aren’t ready to take next steps or they’re just not thinking about that right at the moment,” she said, “but they still need a place to be safe, and they need a place to hopefully start engaging individuals.”
Courtwright said C-U at Home was planning to remodel its building before learning about the Township’s search for a building with shared living spaces.
“We thought, ‘The township is talking about remodeling the University property, and that won’t really get them to their end goal,’” Courtwright said. “‘We’ll be in a building that we’re thinking about remodeling, but that won’t really get us to our end goal. What would it look like if we partnered together?’”
Courtwright said the C-U at Home location used to be a low-barrier, congregate shelter even before the ministry opened, which is another reason why it approached the Township to buy its building.
“That’s really its purpose and its intent,” she said, “and so we thought to put our clients first and to create the right system. It just made sense for them to purchase the building.”
Champaign officials said they would fund the shelter for its first two years at $3.9 million, and it contributed an additional $1.25 million to allow the Township to purchase the 70 E. Washington St. location.
The township offered C-U at Home $975,000 for its building, which fell short of the shelter’s asking price of $1.25 million.
According to Township officials, the building has been appraised at $975,000. Courtwright said this number doesn’t include some of the furniture that C-U at Home would leave behind, such as washing machines and dryers.
Courtwright said she and her staff also face additional costs related to moving to a new location.
“The bigger picture, really, for us was that we needed to be in a position to make sure that we could have capacity for this winter and to be in a position to address some of our long-term goals,” Courtwright said.
At an Oct. 4 Township Board meeting, Township Supervisor Andy Quarnstrom said the township is still in contact with C-U at Home to negotiate the sale and is meeting on Oct. 7 to continue discussions.
Quarnstrom said he’s hopeful an agreement could still be reached and still anticipates the shelter to open in early fall.
“We have met some struggles,” Quarnstrom said, “but I am confident, I’m optimistic that we are going to come to a solution.”
Courtwright said even if the deal doesn’t go through, she predicts that the Township and C-U at Home will continue to work together closely to better serve Champaign-Urbana’s homeless population.
“We’re all invested in the same goal in terms of wanting to serve the homeless community,” she said. “So I think as long as our talks continue in that direction, I think the ultimate outcome will be good.”
If the Township purchases C-U at Home, Courtwright said her organization would look for a new location.
If the purchase doesn’t happen, C-U at Home will return to its original plan to remodel its building, but Courtwright said the renovation wouldn’t begin until spring, after the end of the colder season.