URBANA – Township and school officials in Urbana could soon be working together to bring more homeless families into an emergency shelter program.
Under an intergovernmental agreement, homeless families with children in the Urbana school district could find short-term shelter through a program launched about six months ago by the Cunningham Township supervisor’s office. Cunningham Township is coterminous with the city of Urbana.
Urbana City council members, in their second role as the Cunningham Town Board, approved the agreement at their meeting Monday night, after hearing it praised by Urbana school district Superintendent Jennifer Ivory-Tatum.
“We’re very excited about the ability to be able to support some of our homeless families that are struggling with secure housing right now,” Ivory-Tatum told the township board members.
Cunningham Township supervisor Danielle Chynoweth says while Champaign-Urbana has another shelter program for homeless families with children, it is unable to take in families on a same-day emergency basis. She says that’s the reason for her office’s program, which was launched in response to an increase in families experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the program filled a gap that was created when the Regional Office of Education for Champaign and Ford Counties ended its emergency shelter program in 2019.
The emergency shelter program puts Urbana families up at a local hotel and provides case management and support services until they can find more permanent housing.
“Our average stay since we started the program is 39 days,” said Chynoweth. “And every single family that has gone through our program has exited to some housing situation. There’s been zero family to exit to the streets.”
Chynoweth says formalizing an agreement with the Urbana school district is a way to serve more families that need shelter.
“We really wanted every counselor, social worker, principal and staff member at Urbana school district to be aware of this program,” said Chynoweth. “So we felt it was important to have a formal relationship with the board of education.”
Under the agreement, the shelter program will provide immediate emergency shelter for families who have children in Urbana public schools. The supervisor’s office has a similar arrangement to shelter homeless families whose children stay overnight at the Crisis Nursery in Urbana.
District 116 won’t have to pay anything for the shelter program, which was initially funded by private donations, but now receives money from a tax increase approved by Urbana voters last November.
The Urbana School Board is expected to vote on the agreement with Cunningham Township at its meeting on Tuesday, February 16.
The emergency shelter program is one of several programs Chynoweth has established in the Cunningham Township supervisor’s office to provide assistance to people struggling with poverty. Besides operating a state-mandated General Assistance program, she also provides a rental assistance program, emergency housing for people who must be quarantined due to COVID-19 or other contagious diseases, a food support program that delivers meals, a coat drive and programs that help people apply for subsidized housing, cell phones and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.