In 2007, the City of Champaign Neighborhood Programs Manager approached local, downtown churches to solicit help in providing emergency overnight shelter to single, homeless women during the winter months. At that time, Champaign had no emergency shelter available for single women. The Champaign First United Methodist Church's leadership did not hesitate to respond.
During the initial season of Austin’s Place, from January 1, 2008 through April 15, 2008, working in partnership with the Council on Service Providers to the Homeless, Austin’s Place was able to provide emergency, overnight housing to six homeless women per night. During that time, we provided 166 beds of shelter. During the second season of Austin’s Place, from January 2, 2009 through April 15, 2009, housing capability increased to eight women per evening, and 274 beds of shelter were provided.
Volunteers were the backbone of Austin’s Place and its mission while it was housed at Champaign First UMC. Without volunteers, Austin's Place could not have served our community for thirteen winter seasons. Each evening a volunteer driver and two volunteers who stayed overnight at the shelter served our guests. Additional volunteers did laundry, solicited donations, helped with advertising, prayed, and spread the word throughout the community. Volunteers were trained to better understand homelessness, which included understanding the emotional, psychological and social consequences of homelessness.
The mission of Austin’s Place has been blessed for many years. From January 2008-April 2020, Champaign First United Methodist Church provided a safe and comfortable shelter space - allowing Austin’s Place the use of utilities, water, storage, and a van for transportation without cost. During our first season, our operating budget began with a humble $25.00 donation. In each of our seasons since then, we have been grateful to all who have donated and supported our work.
The need for shelter has grown over the years. Austin's Place provided over 200 beds of shelter each month of our final season at Champaign First UMC. When COVID hit in March of 2020, Austin's Place partnered with C-U at Home and numerous community organizations to provide hotel rooms for the women to allow them to quarantine safely in the pandemic. On June 26, 2020, Austin's Place became a part of C-U at Home and a year-round shelter. As COVID eased in January of 2021, Austin's Place moved into a renovated space with a separate, secure entrance at C-U at Home's building at 70 E. Washington Street in Champaign.
On December 16, 2023, Austin's Place was moved to a house in a residential neighborhood and became a 24/7, year round shelter. The house, complete with a kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry became home for the first eight residents of our Pathways to Progress program.
We are excited to see what the future holds!