Room at the Inn provides warm, safe place for homeless

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 | 11:25 a.m. CST; updated 7:14 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 30, 2013
Volunteers Rick Ellsworth and Sydney Stein wait to sign in guests at Room at the Inn Tuesday evening . The overnight homeless shelter operates out of the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church. The shelter opens in January and stays open through the end of February to give people a place to stay during the coldest part of the year.

COLUMBIA — Glen Vaughn, 53, was reading Elizabeth Lowell's "Jade Island" before bed Friday at Room at the Inn.

"It's about a Chinese lady falling in love with an American man," Vaughn said. "I got this book when I was in rehab."

Lend a hand

  • Room at the Inn volunteer training sessions will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Jan. 16 at Missouri United Methodist Church at 204 S. Ninth St.
  • Create an account at Click Columbia Room at the Inn and click "express interest" button at the bottom. A confirmation email will be sent to allow volunteers to choose their shifts.

For more information on volunteering, call 246-0466.

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Room at the Inn, an overnight homeless shelter that operates only in January and February from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., relocated to Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church, 702 Wilkes Blvd., on the first of the year to provide a warm place for people like Vaughn who would otherwise be left out in the cold. The shelter used to be on Old Highway 63 at the site of a former garden business.

The new shelter is equipped with 30 cots, clean sheets, blankets, pillows and towels. It serves snacks and light breakfasts in the morning, and there are books and movies available to guests before bedtime.

Janet Schisser, the program's coordinator, said the shelter has accommodated about 20 to 27 people since it opened Jan. 1. Although it can register up to 30 people per night, Schisser said that's discretionary.

"We are pretty crowded with 30 cots in there," Schisser said. "But if there's 19 inches of snow and 10 degrees outside, we will probably find a place to put them."

Room at the Inn was started by Missouri United Methodist Church and Calvary Episcopal Church in 2010, and the original shelter was on Ninth Street. Now 12 churches in the Columbia area and the Columbia Interfaith Resource Center work together to keep it operating.

Its $10,000 budget has been collected through donations and so far slightly more than 100 volunteers have committed to work. To carry on until the end of February, 150 volunteers will be required, Schisser said.

Mark Hines, on-site manager of Room at the Inn, said most volunteers have full-time jobs during the day and volunteer at night. But Hines said he doesn't think he's doing anything amazing or great.

"Have you stood outside at night?" Hines said. "That's all the explanation I can give."

Jr Ingersoll, who was using the shelter for the third time Friday, said the volunteers are genuine and goodhearted.

"They really care about you," Ingersoll said. "They are my buddies."

In Boone County, 156 homeless people live in shelters, while 40 others are not registered with any shelters, according to the Interfaith Resource Center's website. Shannon Stewart, another on-site manager of Room at the Inn, said some of those who use the shelter have jobs but can't afford food, rent and utilities.

"You will also be surprised to see how many couples come here," Stewart said.

Josh Ford, 31, who has been staying at the shelter with his wife, said they would be sleeping outside if it weren't for the shelter.

"We are good people in bad situations," Ford said. "It's very helpful, and we help each other like one big family."

Ford's wife, Marilyn Ford, 25, was reading National Geographic before going to sleep. "I'm reading about twins because we have twins," she said. "They are with their godparents, and we see them once a week."

Their long-term goal — a common one at the shelter — is to get back to their families.

"I'm going to go forward," Vaughn said. "I messed up over the years, and it won't happen overnight, but I want to show them no matter how far you are down, you can get up and change."

Vaughn said he wants to see his two daughters again and meet his grandsons for the first time. "I want them to see a different me," he said. "I want to straighten myself first and stay sober and be a productive citizen."

Schisser and those who work for the shelter say they would like it to be a permanent, year-round facility, but for now, she wants to provide a warm and safe place during the coldest winter months. 

"Obviously the need is there," Schisser said. "Or we wouldn't have 27 people last night."

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