Several dozen Springfield residents weighed in Wednesday night on a proposed $3 million health and housing center on the city’s east side. The facility would be open 24-hours a day and serve those experiencing homelessness or struggling with mental health and addiction issues. However, many residents do not agree on the planned location.
A new partnership between several Springfield service providers, including Memorial Health System and Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, would create the Center for Health and Housing on the city’s east side.
Helping Hands of Springfield would run the center, which is set to operate out of a building on South 11th Street. The facility would be open 24-hours, while offering mental health services, substance abuse treatment, basic medical care, and emergency shelter beds.
But many residents present at Wednesday’s town-hall meeting held at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Illinois, said they were not included in the project’s early planning. Some homeowners asked for the city to reconsider the center's location.
Angela Harris, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and is with the Pioneer Park Neighborhood Association, said the area is already saturated with other organizations addressing the same issues. She said many residents are concerned with the loitering and other safety problems that a new facility might bring to the area.
“The point here is — the Sangamon County issues of homelessness cannot be the burden of the east side homeowners,” she said.
Erica Smith, executive director of Helping Hands of Springfield, said the plan is not final, although that specific building is their first choice.
“I would say this is a proposal right now, and that Helping Hands alone does not get to decide where this goes—there are many pieces to that,” she said.
Smith said the location was chosen in part by its proximity to transportation. Lack of accessible transportation is one reason many people who experience homelessness do not seek services, she said.
The center would allow several other organizations to consolidate to better serve the community, reducing the number of providers in the area, Smith said. She also assured residents that security would be present on the premises at all hours.
The project also includes a plan to locate 125 supportive housing units across the city within the next five years. Smith said securing permanent housing for many of those currently living in the streets would reduce the loitering residents are currently seeing. She called the approach “housing-emphasized.”
“So we are just not sheltering people, we’re working to house people and keeping them housed.”
Smith said she has located enough funding to run the entire project for at least five years, with the city helping with some of those costs.