A Publication of WTVP

The Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care seeks to end homelessness by ensuring access to permanent, safe and affordable housing.

Education, income and health are the building blocks of a safe and stable life. But for many people in central Illinois, these fundamentals are out of reach. By supporting programs that promote financial stability and independent living, the Heart of Illinois United Way not only helps individuals and families meet their basic needs for food and shelter, we’re also helping them gain important life skills that provide future stability in the home.

Just one way the United Way focuses on providing financial stability is by collaborating with the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care, a united coalition of community systems including nonprofit and government organizations. Governed by a volunteer board, the Continuum of Care is focused on ending homelessness by ensuring access to permanent, safe and affordable housing. With comprehensive, coordinated services, these programs help individuals and families maintain self-sufficiency and improve their quality of life.

Creating Collaboration
Following Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations, the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care measures the number of homeless individuals and families as a “point-in-time” measurement every January. Comparing 2011 and 2014, central Illinois experienced an overall 29-percent increase in homelessness rates, with 405 homeless individuals and families counted in January 2014. However, early data from 2015 show the number of homeless in central Illinois is starting to decrease.

While homelessness rates in central Illinois were increasing steadily over the last few years, there have been several changes to state and federal funding of programs that address homelessness. Because of these changes, the volunteer governance board of the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care is partnering with the Heart of Illinois United Way and other nonprofit organizations to create collaboration that will establish a sustainable system to address homelessness in central Illinois.

With more than 30 member organizations, the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care currently funds more than $14 million in grants to homelessness and housing programs at 16 local health and human care agencies. Funding provided by the nationwide system of Continuum of Care Programs is used for five key tools that address homelessness: permanent housing, transitional housing, supportive services, shared databases for caseworkers and agencies, and homelessness prevention.

In 2009, the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act was passed to amend and reauthorize the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The HEARTH Act changes how homelessness is addressed, including a consolidation of HUD’s competitive grant programs, creation of the Rural Housing Stability Assistance Program, updates to HUD’s definition of homelessness and chronic homelessness, an increase to resources that prevent homelessness, and additions to measuring program performance.

In 2010, the White House released Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, in which HUD and its federal partners set 10-year goals to end veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015, and to end family and youth homelessness by 2020.

A Measure of Success
To help support local agencies who are dealing with the changes to state and federal funding, the Heart of Illinois Homeless Continuum of Care secured a planning grant, and the Heart of Illinois United Way convened a group of financial partners, including the United Way, Greater Peoria LISC, the City of Peoria and the Community Foundation of Central Illinois. In addition, an ad hoc committee with members from the financial partners and the Caterpillar Foundation was established to oversee the hiring and management of a professional consultant to not only manage Continuum of Care grants, but move the entire system to a performance-based model.

With HUD providing system-wide performance measures for the Continuum of Care Programs, each community must analyze local data to determine which local projects are providing the most successful homelessness interventions and to provide the most cost-effective measures to help families exit homelessness. In order to meet the first goals of the Opening Doors Strategic Plan, it is critical Continuum of Care Programs ensure limited resources are being used in the most effective manner and that households most in need of assistance are being prioritized.

In communities across the nation, the Opening Doors plan has also led to the establishment of rapid rehousing. While originally aimed primarily at people experiencing homelessness due to short-term financial crises, rapid rehousing programs are assisting individuals and families who are traditionally perceived as more difficult to serve, including people with limited or no income, survivors of domestic violence, and those with substance abuse issues. Since rapid rehousing projects place a priority on moving a family or individual into permanent housing as quickly as possible (ideally within 30 days), these projects are proving to be more cost-effective and successful at ending homelessness when compared to transitional housing, where people are more likely to end up back at a shelter.

Facilitating Basic Needs
By bringing people and organizations together across private, nonprofit and governmental sectors, the Heart of Illinois United Way holds a unique position in the local health and human care industry—the role of facilitator. In 2012, when the YWCA of Peoria announced it would close, a crisis for our homeless population was averted due to the proactive collaboration of the Heart of Illinois United Way, the City of Peoria, and several health and human care agencies, who came together to ensure families and children would have a place to stay, not only for one night, but would have housing solutions into the future.

When homeless individuals and families look for help to have their most basic needs met, they often end up in larger, more urban areas because that is where help is more readily available. But homelessness is a community-wide issue, where even the smallest town or village should be engaged in seeking answers. By supporting efforts to end homelessness, we’re not only helping individuals and families get back on their feet, we’re improving access to education for children who have lost their homes, we’re strengthening the health and well-being of the people in our community, and we’re supporting the local economy through increased revenue from housing costs. iBi