Chopping off the hands that help

State budget impasse hobbles homelessness efforts

click to enlarge Rod Lane, executive director of Helping Hands, says the lack of a state budget threatens the homeless shelter’s existence. - PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE
Rod Lane, executive director of Helping Hands, says the lack of a state budget threatens the homeless shelter’s existence.
Rod Lane, executive director of Helping Hands, says the lack of a state budget threatens the homeless shelter’s existence.
At least one homeless shelter in Springfield is facing cuts as the state budget impasse drags on.

Helping Hands of Springfield is one of more than 100 anti-homelessness groups across the state suffering as the State of Illinois continues to withhold vital payments to social service agencies.

Rod Lane, executive director of Helping Hands, says about 40 to 45 percent of his group’s total budget comes from the state, and Helping Hands’ homeless shelter is funded by between 85 and 89 percent state money. With Helping Hands having not received any state money for two and a half months, Lane says his organization has done just about everything it can to prevent the lack of funding from harming homeless people.

Primarily, that has meant staff cuts and a reduction in hours the remaining staff work. Lane says the administrative team at Helping Hands is now doing double duty as they fill in for the lost staff, and the organization has taken out a line of credit just in case.

“We’re not turning people away,” he said. “Our capacity is not changing, and we’re doing our best to keep our services available so homeless people don’t feel it.”

So far, Lane says they’ve managed to avoid spending any borrowed money, but he’s not sure how long that will last. Helping Hands asked the United Way for its entire yearly funding amount up front, he said. Lane says the state funding is critical to the shelter’s existence.

“Without it, we would have to dramatically change how the shelter could stand,” he said. “It could not stand at all, as is. I don’t even know what we would do.”

Steve Woodard, corps administrator for the Salvation Army Springfield Citadel Corps, says the budget impasse doesn’t affect his organization because the Salvation Army’s shelter is currently closed. Their old building was purchased by St. John’s Hospital, and their new building is scheduled to be in renovation until next year. However, Woodard says the budget impasse would certainly affect the Salvation Army if the shelter was open.

Cindy Drum, executive director of Contact Ministries in Springfield, says most of Contact Ministries’ funding doesn’t come from governments, so the state budget impasse isn’t affecting them. The organization has seen a steady increase in demand at its emergency shelter, Drum says, but she attributes that to the Salvation Army’s shelter closing temporarily. She adds that Contact Ministries isn’t dialing back any programs or turning anyone away.

A survey of homeless service providers in Illinois taken Aug. 14 through Sept. 2 by Housing Action Illinois shows that dozens of other providers around the state have made cuts already and are facing even deeper ones without a budget resolution. Of the 101 providers who responded to the survey, 90 percent said they have already or will have to make cuts that result in people at risk being denied services. Many providers also said they’ve seen a surge in demand as services previously provided by other agencies disappear.

Rod Lane at Helping Hands says he understands that state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner have a difficult job of crafting a budget, but withholding payments to service providers in the meantime is equivalent to providers giving the state a no-interest loan. Vendors who contract with the state are entitled to interest on late payments from the state, but service providers are not, which often leads to the service providers being stiffed when the state is low on money.

“We’re in real danger,” Lane said. “While they’re at home eating dinner with their families, we’re the ones on the ground doing the work. We’re the ones washing laundry and cleaning showers at the shelters. We don’t ask for trophies or accolades. We only ask for help.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at

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