The recent extreme cold has heightened our awareness of the homeless in our community. There has been daily media coverage of daytime warming shelters as well as overnight sleeping arrangements.
Perhaps this time of heightened awareness is a good time to consider the plight of the homeless of Columbia throughout the year. This is clearly a community responsibility that is left to a handful of faith groups, the InterFaith Council, Salvation Army and the St. Francis community, to address. Remarkably, our city, often considered one of the top places to live in the United States, relies heavily on the subsistence living conditions of the Catholic Worker Community (St Francis community) to subsidize our community responsibility for the homeless. The tiny facilities of the Interfaith Day Center are sorely inadequate for the need.
What if our community took the needs of homeless people as seriously as we take the needs of homeless dogs and cats? What if the media of the community took up the cause of shelter and services for homeless persons in the same manner as they have in recent months called for improved facilities for homeless pets?
Stories are told that some resist providing basic services to aid homeless persons because that will attract them to our community. What better place to open doors for the homeless than Columbia?
Our community has a history of strong interfaith cooperation in response to human need. We have three great institutions of higher education with a wide range of expertise, including health care and law. We have renowned leaders in academic, government, business and faith communities who are capable of developing a program that not only provides for basic needs but also enables homeless persons to become valued members of society (a good example is ReStart in Kansas City). We have numbers of graduate students who could benefit from hands-on experience in social service in a center for the homeless. We have outstanding writers of grant proposals who can secure additional funding to supplement local resources to establish a center and program. We have numerous empty buildings, one or more of which could be utilized in a positive, community-improving program to serve homeless persons of our community.
While we have a heightened awareness of the plight of Columbia’s homeless citizens, now is the time to begin. I suggest a meeting of leaders in city government, Realtors, higher education and faith communities to go to work to meet both short term needs and to make this long-range vision a reality.