Death of a thrift store

Salvation Army cuts services

Springfield has lost nearly 100 beds for men, some homeless, recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.

In a video released last March, the Salvation Army said that railroad relocation plans threatened the adult rehabilitation center on 11th Street, where drunkards and addicts get help, and asked the public to contact elected officials to save 80 beds. About 100 people received services each month at the center, James Bracey, who ran the center and held the title of envoy in the charity, said in the video plea for help, and absent the center, people would end up hanging out at the library. "They'd probably start doing destructive things," he warned.

Two months later, in May, the center stopped accepting new residents. Now, the Salvation Army says that the center, and an adjacent thrift store, will close permanently, with about two dozen job losses, even though negotiations for sale of the charity's property to allow railroad expansion haven't concluded and the engineering firm tasked with shepherding the project says that construction at the Salvation Army site isn't expected to start for two years.

The Salvation Army says that thrift store revenue has fallen short of paying for the rehab center in recent years – the Springfield center has required $7 million in funding during the past five years above what central Illinois thrift stores have brought in -- and that the pandemic has made things worse. The charity says that it also is closing an Indiana rehabilitation facility about 40 miles from Chicago due to financial difficulty. Major Randall Polsley, who oversees 15 Salvation Army rehabilitation centers in the Midwest, said that the Springfield facility, in addition to facing closure from the railroad project, is aging.

"It's really a combination of events, isn't it?" Polsley says.

Those in need can receive services at Salvation Army rehabilitation centers in St. Louis and Chicago, the charity says. About 60 men stayed at the Springfield center on any given night, Polsley said, and they came from communities throughout central Illinois, not just Springfield. The charity has tried finding jobs for employees at the center, but there are no positions for about two dozen people, he said. With cuts already made at the rehabilitation center, the entire facility, including the thrift store, is set to close on Sept. 30. The charity's other Springfield thrift store, on Wabash Avenue, will remain open.

"This is a difficult decision," Polsley said. "Hundreds and thousands of lives have been transformed." He added that he believes other local agencies can help meet the need. "Springfield, I'm sure, has its own network of recovery and treatment programs," he said. "We were one of a number of providers."

The charity's thrift store business throughout the Midwest is suffering, Polsley said. More than 150 stores in the central part of the United States were closed for three months when the pandemic hit, he said, and they haven't bounced back, despite an increase in donations early on that he attributes to pandemic spring cleaning. "We're struggling to get shoppers back," Polsley said. "We're struggling to staff."

While the Salvation Army shuts down its 11th Street facility, the charity also is negotiating the acquisition of land for the railroad project. Jim Moll, an engineer at Hanson Professional Services who is managing the project, says how much of the charity's land will be acquired and at what price hasn't been established. He said he doesn't expect work to begin until 2022.

Mayor Jim Langfelder, who says he met last week with Bracey, said the charity wants the city to acquire the entire site. "They're thinking it should be a full take," the mayor said. "When we've had those conversations, maybe a month or so ago, the cost was pretty high up there."

Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John "Mo" Madonia said that the rehabilitation center has been a resource for defendants in the mental health court over which he presides. The court seeks treatment for mentally ill offenders as opposed to incarceration, and twice a year or so, Madonia says, the center has provided housing. It has also, the judge said, provided daily support services. He said he believes that defendants in drug court, where he doesn't preside, may also have benefited.

"It is very useful for our needs," Madonia said.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for more than 40 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Now more than ever, we’re asking for your support to continue providing our community with real news that everyone can access, free of charge.

We’re also offering a home delivery option as an added convenience for friends of the paper.

Click here to subscribe, or simply show your support for Illinois Times.

Comments (1)

Add a comment

Add a Comment
  • Let's Get Fit

    Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 9-10 a.m. Continues through Dec. 31