New home for tent community

Safe Haven is a group of about 35 individuals who have been living at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 612 E. Park Street in Champaign. The group has a self-governing council that enforces rules against drugs and alcohol. Residents consider Safe Haven to be a safe alternative to traditional homeless shelters.

They were living in the backyard of the Catholic Worker House, at 317 S. Randolph St. in Champaign. This violated a zoning ordinance set by the Champaign Plan Commission.

St. Mary’s has allowed community members to live in their Oscar Romero Perish Center since August. Residents are moving to Restoration Urban Ministries, 1213 Parkland Court in Champaign..

The new housing plan is a collaborative effort by Safe Haven, Restoration Urban Ministries and Empty Tomb, a Christian research and service organization located at 301 N. 4th Street in Champaign. Several local churches are funding the plan.

Sylvia Ronsvalle, Executive Vice President of Empty Tomb, is heading the project with her husband John and Empty Tomb Home Maintenance Coordinator, Cecil Billingsley.

Empty Tomb usually works with people who own homes but can’t afford to maintain them, Ronsvalle said. Safe Haven is a special project.

“Because winter is coming, we need to get these rooms fixed now,” Ronsvalle said.

The project will cost about $1,000 per room, totaling $17,000, she added. Ronsvalle is asking local churches for donations.

“We have three fax commitments from churches and about five other verbal commitments so far,” Ronsvalle said. “I am confident that the churches will care enough to contribute.”

The project will kick off this Sunday with Quest United Methodist of Urbana, a Christian group that opted to take a different approach to church. Ronsvalle said that every so often, they go out and do service projects as an all-church work day instead of worship. The group will be at Restoration Urban Ministries from 10 p.m. to 12 p.m. on Sunday to help start the project.

They are going to have to recruit fairly skilled volunteers for the project because they are on a time frame, Ronsvalle said.

“Labor is in Place,” she added. “It’s the materials that we’re raising the money for.

Renovations include replacing hot water heaters and carpet, repairing joists and dry wall, and painting and fixing plumbing.

Safe Haven move is a measure that had to be taken when the city of Champaign banned the community from living outside, said Tom Royar, pastor at St. Mary’s church.

“They have been sleeping on the floor in a large room and improvising to get a bit of bedding,” Royar said. “Efforts are being made in the present time to bring some of the rooms at Restoration Urban Ministries up to code since the city condemned them for use. How long that will take is unsure.”

Empty Tomb gave an estimate of about four weeks to complete the renovations. Safe Haven will continue to live at St. Mary’s until the project is complete.