COLUMBIA — Room at the Inn, a severe weather homeless shelter run by the Missouri United Methodist Church, opened Wednesday at a new location.
The new site, at 804 N. Old 63, was donated to the church and formerly housed Total Environments Garden Center, according to a previous Missourian article.
Room at the Inn is open until the end of February from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.
The Columbia City Council, during its Tuesday night meeting, gave the church permission to operate the shelter there. The zoning for the site is C-3 General Commercial, which normally doesn't allow "temporary shelters," according to a city staff report. The council decided to allow the exception but limited overnight stays to only 10 guests at a time.
Room at the Inn offers overnight shelter to people who are homeless so that they can stay out of the cold during January and February. The shelter, started in 2009, was previously located in the multipurpose room at Missouri United Methodist Church.
“There is a great need, and this helps to meet that need,” Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said.
Initially, the Columbia Interfaith Council proposed that the shelter house 35 to 40 guests a night, which would have violated the city Building and Fire Safety Codes.
Third Ward Councilman Gary Kespohl said he was "quite concerned" when he saw that part of the original proposal. The building is in his ward, and he said he doesn't think its 1,500 square feet of habitable space is large enough for that many people.
“I came to the neighborhood out there on the weekend and explained to people what’s exactly going on,” Kespohl said. “There would be a security guard out there at night, and people there will monitor what’s going on. I think most people are in favor of it.”
The city report recommended the exception for the project. It cited Columbia Interfaith Council's goal for the shelter and the the impracticability of changing the zoning simply to accommodate a seasonal use.
The Rev. Keith Vessell of the church said it cannot provide space for the homeless shelter because of scheduling conflicts and city regulations that limit where a shelter can go.
“We have so many other ministries going on at the same time,” Vessell said. He explained that rules for the church's daycare prevent it from having a shelter so close by.
Vessell said Room at the Inn sheltered an average of 37 people per night last year, but he understands the restrictions in the city codes. The church is looking for another place to house the homeless, but he said he doubts that will happen quickly.
Vessell said the real problem is that the public at large doesn’t realize the growing problem of homelessness.
“This is not a January-February problem of a shelter,” Vessell said. "This is a 12-month-a-year problem.”