COLUMBIA — As colder days rolled in, workers in the Harbor House, a Salvation Army shelter, expected an increase in the homeless. What they were not expecting was the rising number of women and children.
For Sharon Nevels it all started when her son woke up blind. In order to take her son to and from doctor visits, Nevels had to quit her job. After paying for three surgeries, the Nevels family was in a financial bind. To make matters worse, Nevels' fiance at the time — now husband, Willie — was fired from his job because of the company’s growing economic hardship.
“Once Willie lost his job, we lived on his unemployment for awhile,” Sharon Nevels said. As rent and bills piled up, the Nevels family lost their home. Willie Nevels was on parole at the time, so without a permanent address he was in violation of his parole and was sent back to jail.
“We had to stay place to place with family members and friends, but after 30 days they would come up with a reason to put us out,” Sharon Nevels said. “After eight months and nowhere else to go, we came here.”
Nevels and her family are only five of the approximately 70 people that will find shelter for the night at Harbor House, 602 N. Ann St.
In the dining area of Harbor House, known as The Daily Bread, lines for food are longer than usual. There was sitting room, but not much. Murals cover the walls, exhibiting the talent and ambition of past residents who painted them. The dining hall has the atmosphere typical of a family restaurant. In the center of the room, Major Kendall Mathews sits down to a home-cooked meal.
“This is a new wave of homeless,” said Mathews, regional coordinator of the Salvation Army in Columbia. “We have never seen this many women and children in the shelter before.”
Nevels represents the economic troubles that plague many in the shelter. Others suffer from domestic violence and abuse. Some just seek a warm bed from the winter cold.
“We’re really seeing a problem with evictions of people from their homes,” said Jim Chapman, director of Harbor House. “Men with good jobs will lose them and leave their wife and children to pick up the pieces.”
As other local shelters are seeing the same problem, coordination between these agencies has become more important. The recent cold snap in January prompted Columbia to set up a temporary emergency shelter at Missouri United Methodist Church. This trend can also be seen in Jefferson City and other areas around Missouri.
Vicki Bullock, director of Center of Hope in Jefferson City, said people just don’t have money right now to properly heat their homes.
“People will come for dinner and stay for the night and then go to work the next morning,” Bullock said.
While some people stay briefly, some stay as long as two years, Chapman said.
“It’s been a whirl of bad luck,” Nevels said. “But at the same time it’s good luck because we have a place to stay while we get back on our feet. I’m not ashamed of being homeless because I’ve realized that anyone can become homeless at anytime.”