‘Housing is a human right’: Greater Peoria agencies continue work to end homelessness
Providing permanent residences for Greater Peoria's unhoused population remains an ongoing challenge.
Construction is progressing on an apartment complex in downtown Peoria for young adults coping with housing insecurity, and plans are on track for a 55-unit development to open in approximately two years.
The projects are the latest examples of Phoenix Community Development Services’ efforts in conjunction with the Home For All Continuum of Care to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness in the area.
Kate Green, the executive director for the Home for All, recently joined Phoenix CEO Christine Kahl in celebrating a construction milestone for the Madison Apartments III. The downtown Peoria complex set to open next spring will have 16 units for unhoused individuals between 18 and 24 years old.
The Home for All continuum is a coalition of organizations working to prevent and end homelessness in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties. Green said the primary goal is to provide strategic direction toward assisting unhoused families and individuals.
“All of our funded agencies come together, share data, and work to prioritize our most vulnerable so that those get access to housing first,” Green said. “So all of our permanent housing resources, much like Madison housing III here today, comes from that prioritized list of folks across that four-county service area.”
Green said that on any given night, the four-county region has as many as 400 people in need of permanent housing resources.
“The continuum works all the way from homelessness prevention and connecting folks to resources before they maybe enter homelessness, all the way to emergency shelter and permanent housing like this,” Green said. “So we follow the data, we understand who's presenting kind of in different pathways, and then what exits we need for them."
“This is certainly one of those examples here today of permanent supportive housing for folks who are chronically homeless, have a disabling condition and really need that wraparound supportive service to remain stably housed in the long term."
Kahl said the 18-24 age group in particular is a demographic with increasing needs.
“Part of why we went down this pathway is that in a one-year period of time, that population had tripled, according to the Homeless Management Information System through the Continuum of Care,” Kahl said. “Now, it's still not tripling, but it continues to be on a growth spurt. So this is definitely a population that's got a large unmet need. So 16 units is only going to scratch the surface. But right now, there are no units dedicated to this population in our community.”
Kahl said the Madison III project has been in development since 2020 and is on track to open next spring. Residents will become permanent lease holders protected by state landlord-tenant laws. And they will have access to age-appropriate voluntary supportive services.
“The notion that it’s dedicated to a certain age group is definitely unique,” she said. “This one, because of the age group, will take a lot more, I feel, collaborative partners, so the Children's Home Association (of Illinois), other agencies that are used to working with youth that are coming out of the DCFS system. That's not usually a population we have at our other properties, so we don't usually have that level of partnership with them either.”
Kahl said Phoenix’s next project will have an even bigger impact. The organization recently received approval for a low-income housing tax credit to fund the bulk of a $24 million development to turn the former Methodist College of Nursing into “Phoenix Manor.”
The conversion of a building that was originally built as a hotel will result in 55 apartments, primarily two- and three-bedroom units intended for families.
“Probably two years is right now what we're looking at, so we're looking at probably summer 2025 on that one. That one will end – functionally end – family homelessness here,” Kahl said. “It will wipe out the current waitlist; there will be no families waiting on the list for housing at that point. So that's called functional zero, it means that you have enough stock to handle any family that newly becomes homeless.”
Kahl said the waitlist for people to be selected for one of their permanent residences is prioritized not by how long someone’s been on the list but rather an individual's vulnerability.
Green said she's noticed an increased interest in raising money for programs to address homelessness.
“It's interesting, we've seen that the state of Illinois has taken a very proactive stance here, even just this past year. They have codified the state office to prevent and end homelessness; they've added a lot of additional funding,” Green said. “So there's an additional $1.8 million coming to our community.
“The challenge, as always, isn't necessarily just about the funding, but we also need the capacity to be very effective in delivering those funds as well. So we're trying to pair those two together, and really roll out those funds in a meaningful way so that we can see some really great outcomes for folks who are experiencing homelessness.”
Kahl said that for her, the cause to end homelessness carries a personal significance.
“I'm the parent of three special needs children," Kahl said. "One is now 32, and two others are now 19 and one of them I had adopted out of the child welfare system and she comes from a family of origin that was homeless and on the streets for a long time."
“But just having three children with special needs, I just firmly believe housing is a human right and that people with special needs don't need to live in institutions in this country. So that's part of what this housing creates: an opportunity for somebody to live independent of an institution.”
Kahl said Phoenix has the only homeless outreach team in the four-county Greater Peoria area.
Green said Home for All Continuum of Care works with that outreach team, as well as with emergency shelters and in a partnership with the 211 referral line, to help unhoused individuals get access to support services and resources.