Cold weather causes Room at the Inn shelter to reach capacity

Thursday, January 24, 2013 | 2:54 p.m. CST; updated 11:32 a.m. CST, Friday, January 25, 2013
Dustin Anderson shows his collection of movies to volunteer Jacob Cartee on Wednesday at Room at the Inn, a homeless shelter at the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church. Anderson has been coming to the shelter for a week, but recently interviewed for a job. The shelter has 30 beds available, and it was at capacity by 8 p.m.

COLUMBIA — Cold weather has pushed the Room at the Inn homeless shelter to capacity.

The shelter was fully occupied Wednesday night, and excess demand Tuesday night required it to send four people to the Salvation Army Harbor House.

Room at the Inns seeks donations

Room at the Inn is in need of food and paper products. For donations call Janet Schisser, Room at the Inn coordinator, at441-2555.

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On Jan. 4, the shelter relocated to Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church and tripled its number of beds to 30. Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 23, an average of 27 beds were occupied per night.

“Although we are getting better, 30 beds just feels short,” manager Shannon Stewart said while Wednesday's guests chatted and watched TV. Stewart said he would like for the shelter to expand and stay open during the day. Right now, the shelter only operates in January and February, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Stewart knows how it feels to be without a warm and secure place to sleep. Last year, he was homeless. When the church pastor asked whether someone would like to run the shelter, Stewart raised his hand and became the new manager.

“Here we don’t have strict bedtime rules," Stewart said. "They can watch TV, read, talk and be listened to with dignity. We have volunteers that just have heart for these people. We try to help them, we really try.”

Jareé Strozier, 25, said she lost her job and couldn't afford to stay in a motel any longer. “I can’t imagine myself without the shelter,” she said.

To be admitted, guests must submit to screening by a volunteer, under the supervision of a Columbia police officer.

“It is like going through the airport,” Rusty Fesher, 42, said. Fesher said his poor financial situation forced him to the shelter.

Some stay at the shelter for a few hours or days, while others, such as John Wilcox, are regulars.

“Without this place I would be sleeping on the sidewalks,” Wilcox said. “Going to this shelter is the best moment of my day.”

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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