Opening of new Sol House shelter delayed

Saturday, April 21, 2012 | 4:22 p.m. CDT; updated 5:21 p.m. CDT, Saturday, April 21, 2012

COLUMBIA — A transitional housing facility for homeless youth scheduled to open this summer will now open several months later than planned.

After a November ground-breaking at 1004 N. Seventh St., where Central Missouri Community Action is building five two-bedroom apartments for Sol House, bids came in higher than the organization could afford and building plans were revised to keep costs within budget.

Dianna Moore, the organization's director of economic development, said she doesn't expect the facility's quality to be affected by these revisions, which have to do with the materials used for the building's roofing and exterior, not the overall design.

"The basis of the project still is the same," she said. "There will still be five units housing 10 individuals. The floor plans and layouts are still the same. We've just changed a few things in the construction documents."

A new round of bidding will begin with the next few weeks, and construction could begin in May or June, Moore said. Construction will take about six months.

Sol House is the Rainbow House's transitional living center. Its eight-person staff will run the new facility.

The construction is being funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Columbia's HOME Fund, the Neighborhood Stabilization Fund and the Missouri Housing Development Commission Trust Fund, Moore said.

Collaboration between Central Missouri Community Action and Rainbow House began in 2007, when there was no transitional housing for homeless youth in Columbia. Both organizations were interested in establishing such a facility. Central Missouri Community Action is experienced in development and housing while the Sol House staff has expertise in programs for homeless youth, Moore said.

"We have not in the past provided the services Sol House provides, which is why the partnership is so fortuitous," she said. "We both come to the table with different sets of experiences and together we can get things really accomplished, which in the end benefits the whole community."

The most recent count for homeless youth in the Columbia School District was 210 for the 2010-11 school year, according to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's homeless census. That figure was down from 240 in the 2009-10 school year and up from 198 in 2008-09.

Claire Slama, the homeless youth program director at Rainbow House, said that despite the need for both centers, the new facility will probably replace Sol House's current one.

"If we can find funding to keep the current space open, then we will, but right now we don't have the funding to do that," she said.

The new building will house 10 individuals — just two more than the current Sol House apartments — but the Slama said it makes a difference for youth to live in apartments with one roommate instead of three.

"It's them having more personal space," Slama said. "It allows them to have their own bedrooms and practice what it's like living on their own."

The building will also have more staff offices and community space, which can be used for residents to do homework or have meetings and events.

Sol House's 18-month program emphasizes earning a diploma, getting a job and learning life skills, such as healthy cooking and budget management.

"The goal is to successfully transition into adulthood," Slama said.

There are 18 youth on the waiting list for Sol House, Slama said.

Sol House was also full in 2010 when Hannah Robbins was filming "Will," a mini-documentary about a homeless teenager. The film was produced for her senior thesis at Stephens College.

"There was a waiting list for youth at the time of shooting" the documentary, Robbins said. "It's not just older homeless people, but youth and teens."

Robbins met Will, the subject of her 13-minute film, at Sol House when she was pursuing an initial plan to interview all of the residents. She decided to focus on just Will's story of growing up with drug-addicted parents and struggling with an alcohol problem himself.

Robbins' documentary will be shown Sunday at The Blue Note at the end of the Lunafest Film Festival, which begins at 4:30 p.m. The event will raise money for the Breast Cancer Fund and Central Missouri Community Action.

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