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Safe Haven members look to trade work for shelter

CHAMPAIGN — A group of local homeless people will again be seeking shelter.

Abby Harmon, a graduate instructor at the University of Illinois and member of the Safe Haven board of advisers, said a small, “really core” group of Safe Haven members hopes to find property owners and managers who will accept “sweat equity” in trade for shelter beginning next month.“That fits really well with the core values” of living in a way that is “very much committed to self-sufficiency and creating symbiotic relationships,” Harmon said.
One member has his own business, she said. The group is mailing letters to property management companies and directly contacting them to try to “work out some sort of trade.”
The group is also putting notices in church bulletins, she said.

Anyone interested in such partnerships is urged to contact Donnie Rutherford at 979-1272.

The group is also seeking to become a tax-exempt organization so donors will get tax deductions, Harmon said.

Their goal is to be a “progressive homeless community seeking alternative solutions,” she said.

Some members of Safe Haven, which formerly described itself as a “self-governing tent community,” have been staying through the winter at Restoration Urban Ministries in Champaign. But the agreement between that faith-based shelter and social service organization runs out this month. The Rev. Ervin Williams said about 40 Safe Haven members stayed there “at any given time.”

Some moved out, but some will be staying and enrolling in the Restoration transitional program, he said.

The arrangement was made possible with Empty Tomb and other volunteers helping to repair and renovate some of the unused rooms at the former motel at Bradley and Mattis avenues.

“It took care of the immediate problem,” Williams said. “It was good for us; it placed us in a different light. And it was also good for them; it taught them to be responsible for property and to start thinking about where they want to go from here.

“It’s left me feeling really good about it,” Williams said. “It was mostly a community effort.”

Safe Haven first came to public attention about a year ago when tents were set up behind the Catholic Worker House, 317 S. Randolph St., C. 

Organizers said the group had its own governing council to enforce rules against drugs, alcohol and fighting, to provide “a safe alternative to traditional homeless shelters.”

However, city officials ruled that the tents violated Champaign’s zoning laws.

The group moved to a Mahomet campground, then to New Covenant church in downtown Champaign and then to the Oscar Romero Parish Center at St. Mary Catholic Church, 612 E. Park St., C.

Some Safe Haven members moved into Restoration Urban Ministries in November.


By Steve Bauer/The News-Gazette

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.