URBANA – Urbana’s emergency housing program is about to move from rented hotel rooms to its own apartment buildings.
The program gives shelter to homeless families and people with disabilities for just a few weeks, while helping them arrange for more permanent shelter.
Cunningham Township, which covers the same territory as Urbana, launched the program last year, renting hotel rooms that were plentiful during the COVID-19 shutdown.
But with hotel business picking up, Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth says the township acquired two apartment buildings last May, at 206 and 208 East California Avenue, just south of downtown Urbana, and only a few blocks away from public schools.
On Monday, the Urbana City Council gave committee-level approval to a special use permit to allow the new use for the buildings. Chynoweth expects the city council to give final approval at its August 23 meeting, allowing them to begin moving families into the buildings on August 24.
Chynoweth says the apartments are preferable to hotel rooms for the families, who are usually mothers with small children. They are referred to the township by the Urbana school district and Crisis Nursery, an emergency child care facility in Urbana.
“We really want people to be in an apartment environment, so they can stabilize in that environment, and then they transition into more stable housing, that is independent,” said Chynoweth.
Chynoweth says the emergency housing program is one of several township programs she hopes can lead to the elimination of homelessness in Urbana.
“And when we’re able to end homelessness and provide this very basic need of safety and security, we address all the other community issues that are touched by it,” said Chynoweth, who named issues such as gun violence, teen pregnancy and childhood hunger.
Chynoweth says the emergency housing program was launched last year with private donations, but is now funded mostly by a tax levy approved by Urbana voters last November. She says she is trying to encourage City of Champaign Township to start up a similar program for their residents.
Chynoweth’s office also runs Cunningham Township’s General Assistance program, an emergency financial aid program for people who are out of work or disabled and have not qualified for other financial aid programs. General Assistance is the only public aid program that townships in Illinois are required by statute to provide. Chynoweth’s office has also launched a community garden program in collaboration with other local governments and agencies. And the office also runs programs helping Urbana/Cunningham Township residents with transportation, rent, food and toiletry supplies and applying for subsidized housing programs.