Local shelter raises awareness of homelessness in Champaign County

As winter approaches, a local shelter has focused on raising awareness about the dangerous conditions the homeless will face.

Caring Kitchen in Urbana hosted an event last week to show the different ways the homeless live this time of year. Volunteers with the shelter demonstrated what it’s like to live in a car, a tent or couch surf with family or friends.

While most homeless people will seek shelter in a place like Caring Kitchen, many will be outdoors in the cold.

“Published statistics show that 69 percent of our nation’s homeless found shelter in local, state or federal provided housing,” Urbana Mayor Bill Bean said of numbers from 2014, “and 31 percent remain un-sheltered.”

The number of un-sheltered homeless, Bean said, is down since 2007 by almost 10 percent.

Homelessness is a problem in Champaign County, said Kirk Savage, who credits Caring Kitchen with helping him get back on his feet.

He grew up in a middle-income family, but after his father died, Savage said he struggled with mental health issues and drug abuse.

“I ended up in the penitentiary and lost everything I had,” he said.

Once he was released, he said he didn’t have anywhere to turn.

“Sometimes you don’t have family or anybody that’s there to help you,” Savage said.

He ended up staying at the Caring Kitchen, but said he knows they don’t have space to help everyone.

“We really need to have more shelters for people,” he said.

In 2015, Caring Kitchen has assisted more than 130 people with shelter, and nearly a half dozen of them were children.

The shelter always has a wait list for beds, Caring Kitchen Director Marilyn Cohn said. She and others encouraged residents to consider donating food, money or volunteer at local shelters to help out this season.

The week before Thanksgiving is homelessness awareness week across the country.

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