COLUMBIA — After suffering a basement flood last year and losing a federal grant to purchase a new building, the Welcome Home Inc. veterans shelter is receiving a new paint job.
The interior redesign is a gift from the Benjamin Moore paint company, which has partnered with local businesses to supply paint and labor free of charge.
Aneisa Sherrill-Mattox, executive director of Welcome Home Inc., said the gift couldn't have come at a better time. The shelter recently gutted 2,000 square feet of carpet and tile and removed sections of drywall after last year's flood. The nonprofit didn't have enough funds to completely remodel, Sherrill-Mattox said, so it continued to operate with unfinished rooms.
Sherrill-Mattox hoped that a matching grant from the federal government, worth more than $500,000, would allow the nonprofit to purchase a two-story building on Austin Street. Matching funds from a state agency couldn't be appropriated, however, and the shelter lost its conditional federal grant.
Newly painted walls will help veterans feel more at home, she suggested. What the organization really needs, though, is more room.
The shelter uses every bit of space, she explained. Although the shelter has rooms for 10 veterans, when there is someone in need, Sherrill-Mattox will use love seats, couches and cots to give veterans a place to sleep. At maximum, the shelter can provide for 15.
"Once we had a veteran sleeping upstairs on a couch, another one downstairs on a couch, and a third on a cot in this office," she said.
It's hard turning people away, Sherrill-Mattox said. She promises to do everything in her power to house as many veterans as possible, but she sees difficult choices in the future.
Since Jan. 1, the shelter has provided food, clothing and shelter for 62 veterans, which is a 200 percent increase from 2008, Sherrill-Mattox said.
These veterans range from 18 to 72 years old, and have served in wars as far back as Korea, Sherrill-Mattox said. Some have been awarded the Purple Heart. Some have served 8, 10 or 15 years. Some are university students unable to afford housing and food. In one case, a soldier, his wife and three children needed a place to stay and couldn't find an open shelter.
"They wandered the night pushing a baby carriage with an 8-month-old child, going from gas station to gas station, until they called here," Sherrill-Mattox said. She found them a family room at the Salvation Army.
With 40,000 troops returning home from Iraq, Sherrill-Mattox sees no reason to expect there will be fewer homeless veterans in Columbia, unless shelters like the one provided by Welcome Home can make more room.
Still, she is happy today. With a new coat of paint, living quarters at the shelter will offer a little more comfort for veterans who need a home.