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Peoria's young adult homeless population doubled last year. A new concept in development could help

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Phoenix Community Development Services
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An aerial view of Phoenix Community Development Services' properties on NE Madison, including the 24 new units constructed last year.

Peoria's young adult population experiencing homelessness doubled last year.

The annual Point in Time County by the Heart of Illinois United Way's Homeless Continuum of Care recorded more than 50 people ages 18 to 24 living on the streets in 2021, up from around 25 the previous year.

Phoenix Community Development Services CEO Christine Kahl said while COVID-19 has exasperated housing stability issues across the board, most of this population is vulnerable because they are aging out of the child welfare system, and not receiving support from their families.

Kahl said many of those young adults are also LGBTQ+, and may not use the shelter system for assistance.

"They tend to be a lot more vulnerable, say, in a shelter setting," Kahl said. "And so, you know, many of them will choose to be unsheltered on the street in order to be safe, as opposed to coming into a shelter."

Kahl said PCDS is in the early stages of developing new supportive housing with 16 units for this population at 206 NE Madison downtown, near the nonprofit's headquarters and several other projects providing housing and other services for people experiencing homelessness in Peoria.

Kahl said she's proposing a program to touch these young adults the life and developmental skills they might lack after being thrust out of the child welfare system.

"Part of the model of our housing is for all of our residents, to try to teach them how to be a tenant, you know, how do you comply with the lease? How do you negotiate with the landlord? What do you do to make your rent payments on time, to submit a work order? So it's also a teaching model," she said.

Kahl also envisions an art partnership center on the back of the building as a place for young adults to engage in some positive therapeutic activities and connect with mentors from the community willing to volunteer with the population.

PDCS also recently constructed a new 24-unit supportive housing complex on the site of an old bank on Madison, and is proposing the development of an employment training center at the end of the block.

The first floor of the training center would house a café or restaurant run by PDCS clients. They would be coached not only in food service training and certifications, but also developing soft skills like mediating disputes with co-workers.

"So it's kind of a unique approach to workforce development...that is really kind of outside the scope of traditional, for folks [who] just really have not done well in traditional programs like that," Kahl said.

Still, Kahl said demand outpaces supply for resources for people experiencing homelessness. There are currently more than 240 people on a waitlist for housing in the Peoria area - and that almost certainly doesn't account for everyone in need.

"It doesn't speak to people who are living in doubled up situations, which are very unstable housing settings, and stuff. And so that's a large unmet need that right now, we can't quantify," Kahl said. "The number of homeless kids is tracked and reported by the school district, and that includes that doubled up population, but it doesn't necessarily include heads of household and it certainly isn't gonna include adults that meet that. So what we don't know is how big the number really is."

PDCS is seeking to use American Rescue Plan funds to purchase the former Methodist College building on St. Mark's Court. Kahl said the seven-story structure could virtually eliminate family homelessness in the city of Peoria.

Kahl said they're still awaiting word from the Illinois Housing Development Authority on that project application before it can move forward.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.