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No place to sleep: Woman struggles to find permanent home

Alissa Groeninger/CU-CitizenAccess '” When Tina Lee's home burned down last year, she and her children saw not only the house but their lives turn to ash.

"We lost everything,' Lee said.

She spent the night trying to find a place to sleep but couldn't stay at a shelter because her teenage sons were with her. 

There is no emergency shelter in Champaign County where a single mother with sons over 14 can stay.  Also, her family is too big for a shelter '“ she lives with six of her children.

Lee and her family's first option after the fire was to spend a few nights with her sister. But she had to leave because her sister lives in Section 8 housing in Urbana and strict rules limit who can live in those units.

Then Barbara Daly from the Regional Board of Education and Gail Rost, executive director of the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation, were able to get Lee's family a few nights in a motel.  They used Emergency Basic Service Funds, cash from the United Way to help families immediately when they become homeless.


Now Lee is at a small unit at the Restoration Urban Ministries '“ after going through an application process that took a few weeks.  Restoration is the only family shelter south of I-80.

Lee hasn't been able to use the on-site nursery, as her one-year-old was born prematurely and has a contagious respiratory infection.  As a result, her six kids spend their days inside, while Lee is attending classes.  Her 19-year-old had been working for Lee, since she injured her hand moving furniture.  She has lupus and minor injuries become serious problems.

"There was no place for me here except this place,' Lee said. Lee plans to get back on her feet by getting a job or going to school, preferably both.  She's currently working to find a low-income unit for her and her kids.

Lee was accepted by Restoration because she is "a very upbeat and positive person' who has goals, said Tina Bonar, resident aide.  Lee wants more from life than the situation she was living in before Restoration, Bonar added.

Restoration accepts singles but it's the only transitional program in Champaign County that takes almost everyone:  singles, singles with children, couples and families.  Only sex offenders cannot be considered for the program.  There is a $250 monthly fee for the program, which covers housing and utilities.  It costs the program close to $800 per month for each person, said Linda Cramer, office manager for Restoration.

The transitional program runs solely on donations.  It is has yet to qualify for government grants because it requires participation in religious classes and services. said educational coordinator Peter Patton. He added that  new grants are allowing organizations with religious affiliations to secure funding. 

Patton himself suffered through homelessness in 2005 and found at Restorations.\

A former University of Illinois lecturer, Patton worked with troubled youths, trying to get gang members in schools.He never imagined he would lose everything and become homeless himself, like some of the children he worked with. But Patton was temporarily paralyzed in a car accident and the medical costs  in 2005 forced him to sell his home and spend all his savings. .  

"Homelessness doesn't discriminate,' Cramer said.

Restoration itself almost went broke a year ago but donations poured in when the program received media attention, allowing the owners to start this year with a surplus.

Singles and families live at Restoration. There is no specific breakdown, but Cramer said one-third of the population is usually composed of children and last winter there were 39 children.

Restoration also has a nursery and there were several married couples in the program and 33 singles, but that number was high because people came when a tent community closed

"There are one thousand and one stories here,' Patton said about the diversity of Restoration's residents.

Once accepted to Restoration, people have to work five hours per week, go to church two times a week, attend devotions five times a week and attend three hours of class five times a week.  Classes include financial accountability, self-sufficiency and nutrition.  Residents without high school diplomas also take GED classes.

The program offers employment counseling and anyone with past substance abuse issues has to attend support groups three times a week, as the goal is for residents to save money while working toward getting their own place, Cramer said.


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