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Q&A: Nonprofits work to find people shelter amidst housing shortage

 Darcy Eberle, right, speaks at a panel on housing options for homeless with Peoria Housing Authority's Aldisa Jordan, middle, and Homes for All Continuum of Care's Kate Green.
Camryn Cutinello
Darcy Eberle, right, speaks at a panel on housing options for homeless with Peoria Housing Authority's Aldisa Jordan, middle, and Homes for All Continuum of Care's Kate Green.

With cities across the country facing housing shortages, community outreach nonprofits in Peoria are finding ways to help people access shelter.

The Phoenix Community Development Services is one of those groups working to help people access temporary and permanent housing options.

WCBU reporter Camryn Cutinello spoke with Darcy Eberle, Phoenix's outreach and rapid rehousing program director, about the services offered by the organization. They discussed shelter options for people who are homeless, how people can properly help and how the homeless population in Peoria has grown since the pandemic.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What is the current situation with the number of homeless people in Peoria?

Darcy Eberle: So we are seeing an uptick in all areas, whether that is people in cars, or abandoned houses, the encampments are growing. This winter was the first time that at the very beginning of winter, all of the shelters were full, and actually had a waiting list to get people in.

We have more shelters than I think people realize. So we have the Salvation Army, which has the family shelter, and then it has the single men's shelter. We have the Peoria Rescue Mission, and that is for single men; we have the Esther House, that is for women. And then of course, there's always the Center for Prevention of Abuse for anybody who is experiencing abuse or sex trafficking, or there's a whole list that they have. Anybody can contact me or my team. Unfortunately, we only work Monday through Friday 8:30 to 4:30. So if it's a crisis situation, anybody can reach out to 211, and they can be connected to those shelters and those services if it's after hours for us.

In terms of members of the LGBTQ community, there have been situations where people haven't felt comfortable going to certain places, are there shelters that are friendly to members of the LGBTQ community?

Eberle: Yes. The Dream Center in particular is very good about accepting our LGBTQ+ population. And it's probably not very well known, but the gender that is presented is the gender in which you will be enrolled.

Can you expand on the outreach work that your team is doing?

Eberle: So we are over four counties. We are under the Continuum of Care, so we are Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties. Mostly, we are in Peoria and Tazewell, Fulton and Woodford are more rural and don't see why as much. We can be anywhere that we are needed at any time. So you will find us in the encampments, you will find us walking the riverfront, you will find us just sitting at CityLink talking to somebody. I have been known to crawl in somebody's tent and start talking to them in the encampment. Anywhere somebody is experiencing homelessness, that's where you're gonna find us.

And what are some of the specific services that you're providing?

Eberle: I always tell people that for outreach, we do a little bit of everything. So our immediate concern, of course, is health. Are you safe where you're at? If you're on the street, are you interested in getting into a shelter? Some are, some aren't. That is their choice. If they don't want to go to a shelter, then we will do everything we can to make them comfortable on the street. And then we do an assessment so that we know what they need. Do we need IDs? Do we need to get you in for mental health care? Do you not have your medications? Whether it's physical or mental health care? What kind of housing Do you want? It's everything everything is client-centered? So our approach depends on who we are talking to at that moment.

What kind of barriers do you see and actually building affordable housing complexes in Peoria?

Eberle: I think one of the things that is very difficult to understand is that there's a very long process that we have to go through with HUD. And it takes about three years to get through that process, so that we can start breaking ground. So we are currently building a new building that is going to be for our 18 to 24 year old population that has actually been in the works for four years. And we just broke ground a couple of months ago. It's a very long process, a lot of paperwork, a lot of plans, a lot of grant writing. It's not a quick process. And I think that is one of the hardest things, I have to say.

How can individual people help your organization and the entire community?

Eberle: I always encourage people that if you want to help somebody on the street, please come to us. And we will facilitate that. Because we know a lot of the individual's barriers and what is and isn't acceptable to them. I also want to stress that while it might not be your idea of a home, it is their home and you need to respect that as such. I would never walk into somebody's house unannounced. So when I go to an encampment, I don't just open a tent and look in. I will stand outside and say 'hey, it's Darcy from Phoenix. Anybody home can we talk?' If they don't come out then I have move on to the next person.

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Camryn Cutinello is a reporter at WCBU. You can reach Camryn at cncutin@ilstu.edu.