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Youth shelter program loses money; refocuses on young adults

Debra Pressey/The News-Gazette/CHAMPAIGN -- Roundhouse, a shelter for homeless and runaway children and young teens in Champaign, will refocus its program to serve young adults because its major federal funding source for younger teens and adolescents isn't being renewed.

A program of the Mental Health Center of Champaign County, Roundhouse has been a temporary shelter for youths ages 11 through 17 while program staff works to reunite these youngsters with their families.

To keep Roundhouse open without its annual $150,000 federal center grant, Ferguson said, some other funding sources intended for an older age group will be used to refocus the shelter to serve young adults ages 18 through 20 (including those who are parents or pregnant) who need some help making a transition to adulthood.

Lisa Benson, director of residential services at the Mental Health Center, said one Roundhouse bed will be left available for kids under 18, but any agency or program referring a child to Roundhouse will have to pay for the child's night of care.

That's going to heap more strain on a state program that has turned to Roundhouse many times to provide temporary lodging for runaway youths and those locked out of their homes.

Doug Braun, youth service coordinator for Catholic Charities, said the Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Service program (operated locally under contract by Catholic Charities) has sent a lot of children to Roundhouse to buy some time while more permanent arrangements are worked out with the families.

 The program turned to Roundhouse for more than 250 nights of care for runaway or locked-out youths between July 1, 2009, and this past June 30, he said.

 These nights of shelter provided at Roundhouse had been free to Catholic Charities, but because of state funding cuts in the youth service program, there's no money to pay for boarding kids at Roundhouse, Braun said.

 "We can still use Roundhouse, but it would cost us $125 a night. That's a huge sum," he said.

 The youth service program will still provide intervention for kids and their families, Braun said, but will likely seek foster homes to serve as temporary care locations for kids who can't return to their homes.

 Ferguson said Roundhouse's $150,000 center grant would have been renewed at the end of September, so her organization hasn't had much notice to plan for the loss of this money that covered so much of the shelter's $240,000 annual expenses.

 Other money comes from United Way, local governments and through fundraising, she said.

 Benson said runaway youths 11-17 will be served under another program -- funded with a new $100,000 street outreach grant intended to help connect runaways and other homeless youths and young adults under age 21 with the services they need.

 Had the shelter grant been renewed, she said, these homeless youths could have also been tied into the services and shelter available through Roundhouse.

 "We can apply again next year," Ferguson said of the center grant. "It's just that every year there's a shrinking amount of money."

 Phil Bloomer, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, said the loss of Roundhouse's funding reflects the current administration's position on spreading money around.

 Johnson inquired on behalf of Roundhouse with the Department of Health and Human Services program that awards the center grants, Bloomer said. What Johnson was told is there were about 1,000 applications and only enough money to fund about 100 of them. 

 "They said they basically had too many applications and not enough money," he added.

 Bloomer said Johnson has asked for a list of applicants that were funded but hasn't received it yet.

 Bloomer also said Roundhouse is on a waiting list with about 75 to 100 applicants who stand to receive some center funding if any of the successful grant applicants can't fulfill their obligations to receive the money.

"It's really unfortunate," he added. "Roundhouse has been serving the Champaign-Urbana community for something like 40 years."

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