Winter shelter for the homeless to stay open longer

Friday, February 17, 2012 | 12:06 p.m. CST; updated 12:30 p.m. CST, Friday, February 17, 2012

COLUMBIA — Since 2009, the Room at the Inn has offered a warm haven for some of Columbia's homeless during two of the coldest months — January and February. This year, supporters of the shelter decided to keep its doors open through March 11.

"The big issue is that winter doesn't end on Feb. 29," said the Rev. Steve Swope of the Columbia United Church of Christ. "Without the shelter, people will be forced to spend nights outside in cold, unhealthy and unsafe environments. We wanted to add as many days as possible to give the folks at the shelter as much time as possible."

Donations needed

Presently donations needed include:

  • blankets
  • a 3XL winter coat
  • instant oatmeal
  • soup
  • granola bars
  • peanut butter
  • jelly
  • cocoa
  • fresh fruit
  • string cheese
  • sandwiches
  • financial gifts

Donations can be brought to Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 1115 Locust Street, during the week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or during service times on the weekend.

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This year, the shelter opened Jan. 4 at a new location — 804 N. Old 63. The shelter can accommodate 10 people per night. Its previous location could accommodate 60 people per night in the multipurpose room at Missouri United Methodist Church.

"We have to turn people away almost every night, which really speaks for the need for this kind of service for our community," Swope said. "It's always really difficult and frustrating that we aren't able to serve everyone who needs help."

Since the shelter began, more than 300 volunteers have helped run it, according to a news release. Their duties include transporting guests, preparing food and doing laundry.

"This a community project — neighbor helping neighbor," Swope said. "Last year there was an incredible outpouring of support to help for two months every night. It took an enormous amount of volunteers and utility money and security and food."

The need is great and the shelter is always looking for volunteers and donations, Swope said.

"The reality of homelessness is that these aren't people coming in from somewhere else to use our shelter," Swope said. "They are residents of our community fallen on hard times. Those of us that are making ends meet, we have the ability to help our neighbors."

For more information, check out Columbia Room at the Inn on Facebook. To volunteer: email

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