Increase in Rural Homelessness in Central Illinois, A Growing Concern

Estimated read time 4 min read

McLean County has seen a rise in visible homelessness as tents appear closer to the city center. County social service workers view as a chance to raise awareness and come up with possible fixes. The increase in homeless people also impacts rural regions throughout Central Illinois, worsening due to the lack of social service resources.


Problems Experienced by Rural Counties

Dea Welsh, who leads personal and community development at the Lincoln Community Action Partnership of Central Illinois (CAPCIL), emphasizes the critical situation in many rural counties including DeWitt, Fulton, Logan, Mason, Menard and Piatt. “The homeless support system is very slim and there are no shelters available in these counties,” she commented.

  • Livingston County, Shelters are nonexistent.
  • Woodford County provides only one shelter with six rooms dedicated for women and children.


Less Obvious Homelessness

In many rural communities’ homelessness goes unnoticed. Importance of maintaining accurate records to highlight this growing problem is emphasized by Caroline McLeese, a case manager from the Salvation Army Pontiac 360 Life Center. “Unlike places like Chicago where homelessness is visible on streets or near businesses, here people find places to stay,” she explains.


Scarcity of Shelter Options

In absence of shelters, alternatives such as seeking accommodation with family or friends become temporary fixes for those affected. Stays at motels like Fiesta Motel in Pontiac are popular but costly. The closing down of the Palamar Hotel last year further reduced options available. Emergency accommodation often falls back on Airbnb style places which drain already limited funds.


Day-to-day Challenges

The harsh reality of homelessness hit Katie Miles and her five children when their shelter was shut for cleaning. McLeese managed to get funds for an Airbnb, but the problem of a permanent solution remains. Despite being on the growing waiting list for affordable housing through the Livingston County Housing Authority, immediate relief seems out of reach.


Economic Factors Driving Homelessness

The high cost of living is a leading cause forcing people into homelessness, points out Deb Howard, director at United Way of Livingston County. Many struggling individuals are ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) who find it hard to feed themselves and pay bills though they work. “We see employed individuals who have to live in cars,” says Howard.


Shortcomings in Federal Funding

Howard states that due to income limits set for funding, providing assistance to ALICE population becomes challenging. “With lack of free funds from federal government, these people cannot avail help given out for poverty,” she commented.

Shelter Capacity Complications

Matt Burgess, CEO at Home Sweet Home Ministries shelter in Bloomington shares that they frequently get calls from rural counties but only a service waitlist can be provided. Moving to a city shelter is impractical for many rural inhabitants due to unfamiliarity with surroundings and lack of transport alternatives.


Difficulties Due to Limited Transportation

Restricted rural transport options pose another hurdle preventing people from accessing services. Services like Connect Transit, Amtrak and Show Bus are available albeit with restrained schedules and high costs.


Service Providers’ Actions

Case managers from the Salvation Army 360 Life Center based in Lincoln often meet clients at local libraries or social service centers reducing travel needs. In Woodford County, Heartline and Heart House provide limited help with Heart House making available six beds for women and children. The county is also deficient in mental health facilities, a public aid office and adequate Section 8 housing coupons.


Bringing Together Efforts and Funds

Kim Turner, board head of a nonprofit managing Hope on 5th in Lincoln, stresses collaboration between service providers as crucial. The shelter plans to start with 25 beds and collaborate with entities like Salvation Army and CAPCIL for complete support provision. “Apart from providing shelter, other factors also come into play,” adds Turner.

Developing Longterm Strategies

Bloomington houses two shelters but faces difficulties in discovering suitable solutions for its homeless community. To tackle unique challenges posed by homelessness, rural communities need problem specific solutions including the requirement for public transit or more shelters.


Concluding Thoughts

The rise in homelessness within rural areas of Central Illinois urges an urgent call for raised awareness, increased funding and problem specific strategies. Social service agencies continue their struggle to establish better support systems through collaborative efforts in solving this escalating crisis.

Celina Brooks

Celina Brooks from Mussoorie is a Writer & Researcher. She earned her Engineering degree in IT from Rutgers University. She is a technology enthusiast but loves writing and talking about local news as well. She is a jolly person with 2 children.

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