Unitarian church hopes to extend homeless shelter until Dec. 31; volunteers needed

Dec 20, 2013

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia is working to recruit enough volunteers to keep its temporary homeless shelter open until Dec. 31 – a week and a half longer than originally planned.

The shelter, a collaboration with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, was scheduled to run from Dec. 9 – 21. But closing at that date meant there would be a gap in resources for those who need a warm place to sleep at night – Room at the Inn, a shelter that operates every January and February, doesn’t open until Jan. 1.

The Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, the Unitarian minister, said the shelter is being extended with a “provisional yes” at this point – a yes, provided the church can find enough volunteers. 

The team behind the shelter hopes to have at least 60 percent of the volunteer slots filled by Saturday. 

As of early Thursday afternoon, there were 45 volunteer slots filled, and about 55 to go, Housh Gordon said – that’s The most urgent need is later in December, starting after Christmas.

Volunteers work in shifts, and each shift requires three people, with at least two men preferred on the late-night shifts.

Shift times are as follows:

  • 5:30 – 10 p.m.
  • 9:30 – 1:30 a.m.
  • 1:30 a.m. – 7:30 a.m.

“It’s kind of always an act of faith, hoping people will come together,” said Jeff Stack, who is part of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Pondering the need, he brought up the significance of helping out at this time of year, “when the Christians, especially, think of the plight of Mary and Joseph.” As the Biblical narrative of Jesus’ birth goes, Mary and Joseph needed a place to stay, but there was no room for them at the inn.

Those who want to volunteer should contact Stack at jstack@formissouri.edu, or at 573-449-4585. Volunteers can also sign up online (click here).

Fourth Ward City Councilman Ian Thomas has volunteered at the shelter a couple times – he and his wife are involved at the church, and they wanted to help out.

He’s also been involved in his official capacity as a councilman, and the council as a whole has put its support behind the shelter.

This week, the council approved the use of the council contingency funds to help pay for the costs of the shelter. These funds are set aside by the city every year for expenses that don’t get covered by the regular budget.

The council approved up to $5,000 for use, but Thomas said they’ll likely only need between $1,000 and $2,000.

Thomas said some of that money will be used to replenish the supply of breakfast foods, and to buy more blankets – Rev. Molly Housh Gordon said blankets are the biggest material need at the moment.

Some of the money will go toward paying Jim Jantz, the shelter manager, who is there every night to make sure all runs smoothly.  The Crossing Church donated money to pay him for the shelter’s original two-week duration; with the likely extension of the shelter, the city has said it will pay for the next week and a half.

Transportation costs could also be covered by the city, though the details on that are still being worked out. Originally, the city was going to provide bus passes for people to get from the downtown area to the church, which is on Shepard Boulevard, off of Old Highway 63. But Missouri United Methodist Church volunteered its van for transportation instead, so the bus passes haven’t been needed. Thomas said plans for the transportation with the continuation of the shelter are still in the works.

If all goes as hoped for, this shelter would provide shelter until the Jan. 1 opening of Room at the Inn, a shelter open every January and February as a collaboration among several religious groups.

This year, five different churches will take turns hosting Room at the Inn, and training sessions are already underway. (View a full schedule here.) Congregation Beth Shalom will take care of the laundry, and Missouri United Methodist Church will once again provide transportation.

This story was produced in partnership with Columbia Faith & Values (ColumbiaFAVS.com), mid-Missouri's source for religion news.