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Dream Center Peoria is committed to helping the housing insecure, as numbers predicted to go up this summer

The Dream Center located in Downtown Peoria holds several opportunities for people to serve families living in Peoria and struggling with poverty. Backpack Peoria is one of these initiatives. From 9 a.m. to noon on July 25, the Dream Center will give out backpacks and uniforms on a first come first serve basis. Volunteers are still needed at the Dream Center.
Dream Center
The Dream Center located in Downtown Peoria holds several opportunities for people to serve families living in Peoria and struggling with poverty. Backpack Peoria is one of these initiatives. From 9 a.m. to noon on July 25, the Dream Center will give out backpacks and uniforms on a first come first serve basis. Volunteers are still needed at the Dream Center.

In 2019, roughly 285 Peoria citizens were reported to be homeless. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic only made financial stability issues, job security and housing security issues go up around the nation.

Denise Bailey, director of development at the Dream Center in Peoria, said that when the eviction moratorium ended last year, homelessness seemed to increase.

Bailey also said on the contrary to what most people image, summer months tend to be worse for individuals without permanent housing, and cases usually increase.

“Surprisingly, our highest numbers in the shelter are during the summer. A lot of people think it would be the opposite, like during the winter, but it’s not true. I think during the winter, family members or friends might feel sorry for those who are homeless and take them in more easily, but during the summer, they’re like ‘no, you can sleep outside,’” Bailey said.

Bailey said these higher numbers can lead to severe medical needs for people experiencing homelessness battling heat, dehydration and other weather-influenced challenges.

Bailey said the Dream Center in Peoria established itself in 2004 with the goal of serving Peoria families.

“Our mission is to impact families living in poverty starting with kids and youth, and it’s broad, really broad. It allows us to reach into lives with services for our homeless guests,” Bailey said.

The Dream Center is a nonprofit that simultaneously does ministry in Downtown while helping people that are experiencing poverty.

The center, located in Downtown Peoria, has 22 apartments used for transitional and supportive housing known as ‘The Village.’ The center also has a homeless shelter for 65 people, used mainly for single women and girls and moms and dads with young children.

In addition to this, the center has classrooms, an auditorium and a youth area that serves as the meeting spot for the youth development program.

Bailey said the center focuses on serving children and their families because children typically have little control over their circumstances. Of the population experiencing homelessness the Dream Center serves, the average age is 10 years old.

“We are looking at many children who are facing generational or situational poverty, it could be either one, and they start to lose hope. They start to think life will never be different, and it may lead them to make poor choices, so we want to remind them there is hope,” Bailey said.

Bailey continued, “Because we are faith-based, we believe that God sees them, he cares about them, he has purpose for their lives, and they have more value than they can imagine.”

The cause of this homelessness is either situational or generational poverty.

Situational poverty happens because of an unexpected event or series of events in someone’s life, like fleeing a domestic violence situation or facing a medical crisis.

On the other hand, generational poverty occurs when people grow up in and live-in poverty most of their lives, oftentimes causing them to feel they cannot escape poverty.

“Children grow up in that, and that’s what they’ve seen. Their grandparents and their parents or any adults that they know, that’s all that they’ve seen. There’s a certain thinking and psychology that goes with it. It’s very difficult to break out of. We believe it’s possible, absolutely, but I think it’s more difficult to transform out of that than the situational poverty,” Bailey said.

Bailey said experiencing poverty is incredibly limiting and stifling, and she said right now, the need for helping people without permanent housing is huge in Peoria.

“I’ve had this comment said to me, ‘there are so many jobs open right now. There shouldn’t be any homeless,’ but, there’s a lot more to that picture. There are mental health issues. There are transportation issues, and for example, a mom may get a job, but if the bus routes don’t run at exactly the right time and she has kids that she has to get to school or to childcare and she can’t leave at 6 a.m. in the morning, so she can’t keep that job,” Bailey said.

Bailey said mental health has always been an underlying problem, but these challenges have increased in the last few years largely because of extra isolation and extra stress that previously was not on most people’s minds. People experiencing homelessness are included in the increase in mental health challenges.

The eviction moratorium also ended last year, forcing many people with overdue bills and a lack of income out of their homes in Peoria.

Bailey said during the height of COVID-19, homeless numbers and people seeking help from the Dream Center went down. She said she believes tis was because family members and friends stepped up to help homeless individuals then, but now, numbers are rising.

For people who are not enduring homelessness, Bailey said there’s a lot the community can do to care for people and families experiencing homelessness.

“A lot of it is being sensitive and gracious in the sense that we’re not rude. That we see them. I think a lot of times, they feel invisible. I’ve actually had them say, ‘thank you for making me feel like a real person and listening,’” Bailey said.

Small steps can be taken by everyday people in the Peoria area to meet basic needs of people. Bailey said even carrying a zip lock bag of supplies in one’s car that includes a water bottle, a pair of socks, a granola bar and anything else that may meet immediate needs is a way to help those currently struggling.

There are also shelters in Peoria, like the Dream Center, the Salvation Army and the Peoria Rescue Ministries, that can provide food and shelter to people in need, and Bailey said these places have several volunteer opportunities for people to take part in.

“There’s something really fulfilling about listening and hearing and interacting and pouring into lives. I walk away encouraged by them many times, so I would say just at whatever level, even just praying for us,’” Bailey said.

Bailey said homelessness is never an “us and them” issue, but an issue that everyone is somehow connected to.

Even Bailey said she can personally relate to what many people struggling with poverty have experienced.

“…over twenty years ago, I was a single mom with no job, two little girls and I thought for sure we were a month or two from being in a shelter. Our circumstances changed quickly and drastically. I had income through my husband and all of the sudden, he was gone. It was very real to us, and so I know how quickly it can happen to someone,” Bailey said.

Bailey said financial struggles, housing insecurities and job insecurities can happen to anyone at any time, and homelessness impacts everyone no matter if they realize it or not.

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Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.