Room at the Inn opens at new location after council approves zoning exception

Thursday, January 5, 2012 | 6:57 p.m. CST

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.

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.” 

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David Sautner January 5, 2012 | 8:31 p.m.

Only 10! Let's see 1500 square feet divided by 10 people that's 150 square feet per person no one needs 150 square feet just for a warm place to sleep at night! You could accommodate 50 people that's 30 square feet per person. It's sick.

(Report Comment)
Corey Parks January 5, 2012 | 10:50 p.m.

How many square feet are the classroom trailers at the local schools? I know there are usually between 20-30 students in each room. Does that break fire codes?

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance January 5, 2012 | 11:30 p.m.

Not only is this in Kespohl ward, it's right next to his neighborhood. Looks like between protecting his rental interests and concerns about homeless folks in his neighborhood, he is representing his interests well on the council. I hope the 3rd ward shows him the door next year. He does not represent the 3rd ward, only Gary Kespohl.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 6, 2012 | 4:01 a.m.

Gee Tim, if Kespohl opposed the plan, why did he vote for it? If the progressive members of the council are "better" than him, why didn't they vote to override staff's recommendations that no more than 10 people be allowed to stay overnight in the building? Mountains out of molehills...

(Report Comment)
Tim Dance January 6, 2012 | 5:29 p.m.

It's called hedging your bets John. He did it with the ward reappointment plans. He voted for the Plan that he tried to kill. He is just looking out for Gary Kespohl.

(Report Comment)
David Sautner January 6, 2012 | 10:01 p.m.

Goodbye Gary Kespohl! Off to Afghanistan you go!

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin January 6, 2012 | 10:13 p.m.

Not only did Councilman Kespohl hedge his bets, as Tim rightly notes, he was quite belligerent to those who testified during the Ward Reapportionment public hearing.

Here's what George Kennedy had to say about it all:

The Third Ward’s Gary Kespohl displayed throughout this process a disturbing blend of belligerence and ignorance.

Both were evident again Monday night as he insisted on his mistaken interpretation of the key term “contiguity” and even argued that all the plans except the one he favored should be disqualified.

Then, after City Attorney Fred Boeckmann again corrected him on the law, Mr. Kespohl was the only council member to vote in favor of three of the five alternatives.

When I spoke with him during the break, he said both Trial D and Trial E “were good plans.” Logically, of course, that can’t be true. I didn’t think he meant it.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 7, 2012 | 12:04 p.m.

("Sheltering the Homeless:
Alternatives to the Armories:")

(Report Comment)

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