Shantel, a lifelong member of the Champaign-Urbana community, has always taken pride in considering herself a hard worker. But here she was in her late 40’s...homeless, unable to return to work, and feeling hopeless.
"I didn’t know what to do because I had never been in this situation," Shantel said when talking about how she felt back in December 2018. "I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know how to navigate this.’"
Earlier that year, Shantel had emergency surgery for a heart condition after a misdiagnosis allowed her symptoms to persist and she nearly lost her life. Tasks, like cleaning her apartment, grocery shopping and walking a short distance, which once came easily and without a thought, now caused exhaustion and difficulty in breathing. With these new physical limitations, Shantel lost her job and then, her application for social security benefits was denied due to the physical restrictions. With no income and a depleted savings, she lost her home. She became homeless.
A new year brought a little hope when in January of 2019 Shantel was connected with ECHO Housing and Employment Support, a program of Cunningham Children’s Home. When she met with Mike, her caseworker, he assessed her needs and created a plan for how they would work together to help her overcome homelessness.
In its second year, Cunningham’s ECHO Housing and Employment Support Program provides comprehensive housing, employment, and life skills development to Champaign County’s citizens who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. With the goal of providing resources that provide support towards permanent housing and employment, staff work with adults or families that have the ability to live independently with or without on-going support. The program provides intensive case management and care coordination geared towards promoting skills and linkages to permanent housing and employment and resolving barriers.
Mike connected Shantel with resources to advocate for her in her appeal to receive social security benefits and to receive a Shelter Plus Care voucher, a federal grant for rental assistance for homeless persons with disabilities. She was ecstatic and found an apartment in Urbana. Although the landlord had verbally agreed to rent the apartment to her, it was rented to someone else just days before Shantel was to get the keys. She was devastated but Mike and the ECHO staff was there to help and provided counseling and new landlord contacts.
With a renewed outlook and a set of housing options, Shantel found a one bedroom apartment suitable for her needs. The day Shantel signed her new lease, ECHO staff was with her to provide support and on move-in day, Mike and his team at ECHO provided furniture donations and a startup kit for household items.
While meeting with her landlord, Shantel began to cry because it felt so unreal to finally be getting her own home.
"There are no words to describe what it felt like to finally have a place where I felt secure and have someone give me a chance." Shantel said.
She feels it was a spiritual journey that led her to the ECHO program.
"You don’t know who is going to be put in place to help you," Shantel said. "I kept telling myself it will be OK tomorrow. Not perfect, but OK. God put Mike and the ECHO program in my life. It’s all good and it’s all God."
"I’m so proud of Shantel," Mike said. "She is a go-getter and a fighter. Even though she was a little leery at first about how we would be able to help her, she didn’t let anything get her down and started to trust that I would be there when she needed me."
Shantel said what sets the ECHO program apart from other programs is the staff and their compassion and sincerity about wanting to help people do better. And she hopes that by telling her story, God’s love will allow her to help someone else.