Officials from Sangamon County and Helping Hands of Springfield announced on Tuesday that they are working together on a proposal that would provide emergency and transitional shelter, and a variety of day services, all under one roof.
Helping Hands Executive Director, Laura Davis states, “We are designing a new shelter plan to deliver streamlined services in coordination with the Heartland HOUSED strategic plan to end homelessness in Sangamon County. We believe shelter should be a temporary service and that as a community, we can make homelessness rare, brief, and non-recurring. Our services will be housing-focused and designed to move people experiencing homelessness forward into safe, stable, permanent housing as quickly as possible. We understand that shelter will always be a necessary component of a coordinated homeless response system, and we are working with the city to offer the community a permanent location for the low-barrier emergency overflow shelter.”
The proposal would repurpose a portion of a building located at the County’s Complex on South Dirksen Parkway. Currently, less than half the building is used as the County’s Juvenile Detention Center and the offices of the Regional Office of Education. The rest of the building is vacant.
“The County has long looked for a community use for the unoccupied space and we are excited to partner with Helping Hands to put the space to good use helping to address homelessness in our community,” said County Board Chairman Andy Van Meter.
The proposal fits the goals and objectives as outlined in the new strategic plan on addressing homelessness in Sangamon County. The strategic plan was facilitated by the Heartland Continuum of Care and included local governments, healthcare providers, nonprofits, and other social service organizations partnering to design a first ever community-wide strategy, called Heartland HOUSED, to end homelessness in Sangamon County.
“Our strategic plan provides a foundation for our community to build an effective system to address homelessness. Other communities our size have used similar strategies to reach functional zero,” said Josh Sabo, Coordinator for Heartland Continuum of Care “Many significant needs are identified in the plan, including the need for more effective housing-focused shelter services and additional day services. This proposal by the County and Helping Hands would address significant shelter needs while also delivering services to link people to housing opportunities.”
Helping Hands is the largest provider of emergency and transitional shelter services in Sangamon County and also assists those experiencing or at risk of homelessness with permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, and emergency shelter. Helping Hands currently operates a facility on Washington Street, which has an occupancy limit of 50.
Understanding the transportation needs, SMTD Managing Director Steve Schoeffel said, “SMTD is committed to working with all those involved to meet the transportation needs of the new location.We have had several productive internal and external discussions and I am confident there is a way for SMTD to assist. We know it is critical for the success of the new facility.”
The Sangamon County Juvenile Detention Center was built in the 1990’s and since its construction juvenile justice sentencing guidelines and reforms have moved away from detention and towards a greater focus on probation and rehabilitation. As a consequence, more than half of the County's Juvenile Detention Center sits empty.
“The County Board has been briefed on the proposal and they strongly support this important endeavor,” said Van Meter. “We have also been in discussions with our local court officials and those state agencies involved with juvenile justice and they have also given a favorable response. I think they all appreciate what this proposal could mean to the entire community, and that we all must collaborate and work together to get it right for everyone involved.”
Sangamon County intends to use federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to pay for the modification and repurpose of the empty half of the Juvenile Detention Center to meet Helping Hands specifications. Costs are projected at $5 million.
“This project evidences a multisector commitment to delivering on our comprehensive strategic plan to bring a functional end to homelessness in our community,” said Heartland HOUSED Board Member Kim Luz-Mobley.
The land on which the Juvenile Detention Center is located will need to be rezoned to accommodate the new use. The County, Helping Hands, and the Continuum of Care had discussions with Mayor Langfelder and City Alderman Roy Williams and Alderman Shawn Gregory regarding the project and zoning. All are favorable of this partnership project and look forward to seeing it develop. The County will initiate the rezoning process as soon as possible.
A target date for occupancy is late 2023.