Homeless shelters have exceeded their limits in Peoria

PEORIA (Heart of Illinois ABC) — A surge in homelessness means more people are seeking refuge at shelters in Peoria as organizations work with the city to find a quick solution.

Kristy Schofield is the director of homelessness and housing at Dream Center Peoria, and says they have more people in their facilities than ever before. The Center can accommodate up to 125 people at a time. But right now they are overrun with 135, with several sleeping on mats instead of beds due to overflow. While some may ask if they would stop letting people in, Schofield says that’s not Center policy, classed as a low-barrier shelter.

“Unfortunately, in every community, some people fall through the cracks,” she adds.

It’s not just the Dream Center that is feeling the effects. Facilities across the region are experiencing a similar surge, with the need to accommodate those seeking assistance. Local shelters are also pointing to the effects of the pandemic as a cause, with moratoriums on evictions and utility payments coming to an end. Many of those looking for a place to sleep are families, some with more than eight children and in some cases pregnant.

This becomes a major concern as the cold months approach. But before temperatures drop, facilities want to make sure they can handle the current surge before it gets worse. During the winter season, the city provides heated shelters to protect people from the cold, which could ease foot traffic to major centers.

In downtown Peoria near I-74 East, a group of tents are set up along a perimeter fence housing several homeless people. In response, the city partnered with Phoenix Community Services to provide shelter. They found four people at the site when they visited, three of whom chose to accept the city’s proposal.

“You can’t force everyone to take advantage of the services you provide, but you can do whatever you can to make them happy,” says Peoria Mayor Rita Ali.

“People who live there are very vulnerable and I would like to see them in a shelter situation. But unfortunately that doesn’t always happen,” adds Schofield.

This is an example of a larger problem: a lack of affordable and community housing in the area.

The Dream Center says a close partnership with the city means constant help in their efforts. It is part of the ‘Continuum of Care’, a local network of social services. The group of associations pools its resources to strengthen its offers to those who need it. With money from HUD (Housing and Urban Development) grants, the city works with these groups to find the best use of the money. Efforts include converting unused land into affordable apartments, like the old Methodist building next to downtown hospital campuses.

“We’re not the experts on what services to provide, but we have a fantastic team of experts in our community,” says Joe Dulin, Community Development Manager for the City of Peoria.

According to Dulin, the City is responsible for connecting displaced people to the right group through the continuum of care. The nonprofits involved are also stepping in to accommodate those who cannot fit into existing facilities.

The city’s number one priority right now is to make sure it can provide enough affordable housing to those who need it, taking steps like holding landlords accountable when they force residents to leave without a valid reason. Mayor Ali says easy access to public resources makes the city’s offer even stronger.

“That’s the good thing about Peoria is that we have a lot of resources that really work together.”

We contacted the Peoria police, asking if there was any action they could take against the encampment. They directed us to IDOT, who released a statement to us saying:

“We are aware of a homeless encampment in Fayette near Adams Street and, like all other parts of our system, we continue to monitor.”

The Dream Center is always looking for volunteers and encourages the public to contact them if they are interested in helping out. You can click on the link here to visit their website and learn more about the Center’s offerings to help the community. You can also dial 211 and get in touch with United Way Peoria and AMT for more information on available resources. This includes being placed on a coordinated admissions list, which can give you the opportunity to find permanent accommodation on a first-come, first-served basis.

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