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There’s hope for community’s most vulnerable residents

Published in the News-Gazette
January 2, 2024

At 7 tonight, the Urbana City Council will have the opportunity to help advance a desperately needed housing solution for our community’s most vulnerable and medically fragile individuals who are experiencing chronic homelessness.

The project is called Hope Village. It is not a shelter, and it is not transitional housing.

Hope Village is a development of 30 “tiny homes” and a community center that will provide permanent supportive housing to individuals who are medically fragile and experiencing chronic homelessness. Hope Village will fill a gap in Champaign County’s continuum of housing for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Individuals in this population typically have lifespans that are significantly shorter than the general population, by 20 or 30 years. They get sick and often die much sooner from preventable and treatable conditions. Hope Village is an innovative model developed from the perspective that “housing is health care”.

Hope Village will provide an array of intensive services to its residents, on site. These will include intensive case management; legal and financial counseling; assistance in applying for and accessing public benefits such as Medicaid/Medicare, SNAP and disability benefits; health care case management; access to health services via the Carle Mobile Clinic; and access to fresh produce via the Carle Mobile Grocery.

Some of these services will also be available to the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, as well.

The city of Urbana is already a partner in Hope Village as a result of dedicating some of its American Rescue Plan Act grant funds to this project. However, the next step in helping to make Hope Village a reality is for the city council to approve all required zoning variances, as our project team works through the prescribed process.

The idea for Hope Village came about as a result of Champaign County Health Care Consumers’ work in 2021 with medically fragile individuals who were experiencing chronic homelessness and unable to be housed in our area shelters. It was through many long conversations with these individuals where the idea for Hope Village was born.

CCHCC staff worked with these individuals, providing health care case management and support in trying to get them housed. We saw first-hand how difficult it was for medically fragile individuals to find suitable and accessible housing that also provided the intensive case-management support they needed.

Sadly, every single client of ours from 2021 who was medically fragile and experienced chronic homelessness has passed away. The circumstances of their deaths were deeply tragic — they died alone, and in places where no one should have to die.

I personally found two of these clients deceased, and had to make end-of-life decisions for two more clients. I still carry that sorrow with me. However, I also carry gratitude for what our clients helped to teach us, and for how they inspired the vision for Hope Village.

CCHCC is deeply grateful to partner with Carle and the University of Illinois to create Hope Village, in order to close this housing gap in our community for our most vulnerable residents. Without these partners, Hope Village would just be a dream.

Hope Village has been developed using trauma-informed design for both the individual homes and the village itself, to create a welcoming, peaceful, healthy and secure environment conducive to healing and recovery.

CCHCC will be providing the intensive case-management services at Hope Village. Carle will provide health services on site, as well as fresh produce through their mobile grocery. The UI is helping to make the homes and the village as energy-efficient and conducive to good health as possible. And together, we are creating an innovative model of housing that allows for aging in place and health improvement.

The property for Hope Village is located in north Urbana, just north of Carver Drive. While Carver Drive is in Champaign, the former agricultural property located just north of it is in Urbana, where Hope Village is being built.

The road to the zoning approvals being considered tonight has been a long one. Like any big change, there have been questions, excitement and sometimes hesitation along the way from folks across our communities and the neighbors who will eventually live next door.

Speaking for the project team, I can say we are grateful for the discourse we’ve had with members of the community, and proud to say we have made material changes to our plans in response to feedback from future neighbors. We are proud to bring such an innovative approach to Champaign-Urbana, one we know has the potential to be a model for other communities.

We are hopeful for the required approvals tonight. While this is another step on a long road, we know in many ways our work to help the most vulnerable in our community is just beginning.

But time is of the essence. As our client Matt Slevin said at the last Urbana City Council meeting, “I hope I live long enough to get to be one of the first people to move into Hope Village.”

Claudia Lennhoff is the executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers