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Inmate escapes from Tri-County Regional Jail in Champaign County

Count helps determine homeless numbers

Springfield shelter expects increase this year in number of people it serves.

Volunteers served hot meals to more than 100 people in need at St. John’s Lutheran Church on Friday as social services providers attempted to gauge the homeless population in the area.

Interfaith Hospitality Network and other agencies, including the Springfield Police Division, participated in the annual Point-in-Time Count, a requirement by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to get information on the number of homeless people nationwide.

Data collected helps agencies determine housing needs in the community and can assist agencies with funding in some cases.

IHN Director Elaina Bradley said her agency provided emergency shelter to nearly 800 area residents and expects to serve more this year.

“We’re serving more than we’ve ever served in the past,” Bradley said. “There’s a large increase in family homelessness, and we’ve worked diligently in the last two years with providers in addressing homelessness in the community.”

Among those counted last week were Debbie and Raymond Johnson of Springfield, who eat meals every Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

The Johnsons have been struggling financially since 2008 and have found shelter at IHN facilities and local motels.

They get by on Raymond Johnson’s $700 monthly medical disability check. The hotel they’re currently staying in costs $600 per month, the couple said.

“That’s $100 for toothpaste, laundry and whatever else we need. One hundred dollars doesn’t go anywhere; that’s why places like this are helpful. At least three days a week we go (to a soup kitchen) to eat,” Debbie Johnson, 50, said.

The Johnsons said they go to motels or decide to sleep apart at a men’s or women’s shelters when area family shelters are full.

Raymond Johnson, 60, said he worked as a drywaller before he injuring his left shoulder, which required surgery.

“What I get is just enough to put a roof over our heads.”

He said he will soon get another $200 in veterans benefits that will help the pair get through each month, but both are hoping Debbie Johnson will land a job.

“If I could get a job, things would look better to me,” Debbie Johnson, 50, said.

Sally Baker of Rainbow Table, which served meals to the Johnsons and about 550 to 650 others each month, said the need in the community has grown because of the economic downtown.

“Most of these people are down on their luck, but they’re not homeless. Some are lonely and this is their social time. And some, their paycheck just didn’t go as far,” Baker said.

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