The recent posting of a Pekin apartment building as uninhabitable sent 10 residents in search of a place to live with only three days to do so.

The home, at 215 Amanda St., had black mold, electrical issues, a tarp for a roof, sagging ceilings and more. Two of the inhabitants were pregnant and one of the women had a 5-month- old infant. 

The tenants have now found housing and the landlord is working to bring the house up to city code. City Building Inspections/Development Director John Lebegue said, “I hate to see people get displaced, but they are probably in a better situation now than there, especially with the space heaters (in the apartments). If you’re using those as a primary source of heat it gets into a whole different situation.”

Lebegue’s department provides residents with referrals to agencies that can often help in finding housing. One surfaced in the Amanda Street situation that Lebegue had not yet heard of — the South Side Office of Concern. They are working in Tazewell County to help those who are homeless or in a position where they could become homeless.

“Honestly, we are one of the best kept secrets,” said Kristen Berchtold, SSOC director of development. “I mean, people in Peoria don’t necessarily know what we do, and we’re working really hard to change that.”

Amber Runyon, SSOC vice president and chief operating officer, said, “I would say with our participation in the (Heart of Illinois)-Continuum of Care we’ve always had some kind of footprint in the four-county area, because in some ways we provide leadership capacity to the Continuum of Care. And by doing that, we do help the continuum identify areas that need additional services.”

The Continuum of Care has a governing board and strategic task groups, and SSOC sits on all of the groups and boards. Pekin, however, was neglected for many years, said Runyon.

“So I think we’re working really hard to change that,” said Runyon. “We work really hard with the Salvation Army.

“We work really closely with the Continuum of Care. We do a lot of meetings and outreach. The big ones are probably the park districts, the police and code enforcement. But I would say when we started our path outreach team in 2015, that is when we really, really started developing good solid relationships here in Pekin, specifically.”

The SSOC is a part of the network of the Heart of Illinois-Continuum of Care. The SSOC has several programs including permanent supportive housing at six locations with apartments, an adult living center, efficiencies and single family housing. Two additional locations are under development and will be opening in 2019. According to statistics provided by the organization, 98 percent of the people who stay in the permanent supportive housing for at least one year do not return to homelessness, according to documents.

The organization also provides rapid re-housing services in which it recruits landlords to provide housing for the homeless and help work through any barriers facing potential tenants. Financial assistance to cover move-in costs, and the rental and/or utility assistance can also be provided, according to documents.

The homeless often need diagnostic treatment and care, case management and linkage/referral to health services, job training, educational services and housing services, said Berchtold.

SSOC statistics show that there were 1,848 homeless children in Tazewell, Peoria, Fulton and Woodford counties in the 2016-17 school year. One in five people, or 21 percent of the homeless, are between the ages of 18 and 24 and are classified as homeless youth. Statistics show that 61 percent of homeless people have significant mental health or substance abuse issues that contribute to their homeless state, according to SSOC documents.

SSOC wants to make its presence known more in Tazewell County. People see the name and think it is related only to Peoria. That is not the case, said Berchtold.

People in need of assistance Monday through Friday from the SSOC may call 309-674-7310 and ask for the outreach team. If people need assistance outside of those times, they may use the 211 Heart of Illinois United Way referral service. That is a 24-7 hotline with a database of all resources available in the community. If the service providers are not open on the weekend, the best resource is the shelter, said Runyon.

Runyon said that she is hopeful that Tazewell County residents will reach out to them in times of need.

“When it’s a crisis situation for consumers, you just have to remember to sort of meet them where they’re at, and it takes a while to gain folks’ trust and build a rapport,” said Runyon. “But that’s what we do in managing crisis.

“The nice part for us is we have a really good system to manage it at our company, and we do it pretty often. And so it’s a little easier to gain the rapport and the trust if you have a good process and people know what to expect.”