The nonprofit Pekin Outreach Initiative recently purchased a house downtown to serve as a centralized resource for people experiencing homelessness in the city.
Agency founder Lynne Johnson said the modest two-story home at 515 Elizabeth St. is a "dream" fulfilled for the organization. It will open as a day shelter by September to provide showers, laundry, food, and other services to the homeless population.
Until now, resources have been far-flung. Showers for those experiencing housing insecurity were installed at First Presbyterian Church near the Sunset Hills golf course, but they have proven difficult for many people to access because of the church's location away from the city's core.
The Salvation Army also operates the Rust Transitional Center on Derby Street on the city's southern side, but its services are largely confined to shelter, meals, and case management for families and women, with more limited services available for single men.
"I worked for Salvation Army for a few years, and I know they do wonderful things there, but there are a lot of needs that are not met there because of space," Johnson said.
The Pekin Outreach Initative, a 501(c)3, was founded in 2012 as a coalition of churches and agencies banding together to tackle housing insecurity and hunger in the Tazewell County seat. The group regularly distributes meals to students and people in need.
Johnson said the Pekin Outreach Initiative has long wanted to open a shelter downtown, near Pekin's bus stops and other services. A $30,000 forgivable loan recently made from the city's downtown TIF fund will help make that dream a reality.
The shelter also will offer people a place to stay during the day, especially during the colder months. The goal is to open by September after a little refurbishing.
Johnson said the need is greater than many realize.
"I'm a homeless liaison for (Pekin) District 108. And last year, we had right around 100 kids that were homeless on our rosters," she said. "So, there are a lot of people in Pekin that have needs that we don't even see."
Johnson said legal aid and behavioral health services also are planned in a private area of the facility. That will include representatives from Prairie State Legal Services, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, and various family services.
"With appointments, they'll meet with people to offer asssistance," she said. "Because a lot of our people cannot get to Peoria. They can't even get to the health department."
A temporary shelter is a goal down the line, Johnson said. The two-story house has an upstairs apartment that could be converted into a temporary shelter once the area is renovated and made accessible to people with disabilities.
Johnson said help is still needed to get the day shelter up and running on schedule. Some items, like a washer, dryer, and refrigerator, have been donated by community members.
A group of volunteers have offered time and labor to build ADA-accessible ramps into the shelter, but building materials are still needed. The Pekin Outreach Initiative also is looking for a contractor willing to help remodel the bathrooms, and various other items.
"We can use small appliances, roasters, crockpots. We can use dishes. We can use everything," she said. "We will not have any paid staff. We have not. Everything that we have done for the community, every cent that has come in has gone back out in our programs."
Monetary donations can be sent to PO Box 726, Pekin, IL 61554. Johnson said anyone looking to volunteer can call her at (309) 241-6001. The organization also recently launched a website.
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