How the cold is affecting Columbia's homeless shelters

Jan 7, 2014

The Interfaith Day Center in Columbia was packed full on Monday as people sought refuge from the cold temperatures. The high for the day was 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

The center, which is a daytime resource for those who are homeless, is expected to move to Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church soon. In the current location on Park Avenue, there’s only seating for about 20 people.

That small space was enough for people last week – Manager Dahne Yeager said there were open seats. But he said that changed when the latest cold spell swept through – around lunchtime on Monday, people were standing in the aisles.

“We don’t have adequate shelter in our city,” he said. Though there are some shelters around town, he worries about the people who still don’t have any place to go.

Over on Ann Street, the Salvation Army Harbor House has been full at night. The house has 61 beds, plus cots for when the beds are all full. Regional development director Cindy Chapman said one night during the weekend, they had to set up 13 cots – that means 74 people total slept at the shelter.

Chapman said people also stick around during the day. “We just don’t want anyone to suffer because of this weather,” she said.

Meanwhile, there’s still been room at Room at the Inn, a temporary shelter run by several different religious groups in town.

As of Monday, Director Janet Schisser said no one had to be turned away yet. In past years, the shelter ran out of space, so coordinators worked to get people to other places, such as Harbor House, St. Francis House or the New Life Evangelistic Center.

But so far, that hasn’t been necessary. This year, unlike in years past, five different churches are taking turns hosting the shelter. Broadway Christian Church is the current host, and it brings both benefits and setbacks.

Broadway Christian has more space than some of the other churches – while most of them can sleep 35 people at most, Broadway’s gym is big enough to hold extras.

But the church is also farther out of the way than some of the others – it’s away from the downtown area. Missouri United Methodist Church has been providing free transportation to the shelter from Loaves and Fishes, a meal ministry. Still, the location is out of the way for those who might otherwise wander in. 

“The next facility will be at Calvary Episcopal, downtown, and I would expect that we’ll have more people that just stumble on us and come in,” Schisser said.

The shelter moves to Calvary Episcopal on Sunday.

Here is a complete schedule of shelter locations:

  • Broadway Christian Church (Jan. 1–11)
  • Calvary Episcopal Church (Jan. 12-18)
  • Missouri United Methodist Church (Jan 19–Feb. 2)
  • Sacred Heart Catholic Church (Feb. 3–Feb. 16)
  • Community United Methodist Church (Feb. 17-28)

This story was published in partnership with Columbia Faith & Values (ColumbiaFAVS.com), our local religion news media partner.