GUEST COMMENTARY: Join cause to find space for needed services in Columbia

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 | 3:36 p.m. CDT; updated 4:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fortunes can change. Any one of us could lose the security of a job or home or face illnesses that overwhelm our finances and lose hope overnight.

The Interfaith Day Center at 616 Park Ave. in the First Ward is a daytime drop-in and referral hub providing community to all who enter, whether men, women and children with no home, adults without jobs or individuals at risk for mental and physical health problems.

On weekdays for the past 12 years, the center has been managed competently and compassionately by Dahne Yeager, who assists guests in securing vital support services they most likely would not be able to achieve on their own.

It was here that I met Anna Estevez. She drops in to receive hospitality, and I, too, offer some. One morning recently she told me if she ever wins the lottery, the first thing she wants to do is find a larger space for the center and fix it up to meet the needs of the guests.

I was stunned by her generosity. Anna lives in public housing, attends Moberly Community College and has a huge medical bill to pay off.

Anna was thinking big, and now I am, too. We’re calling on the community to do the same (just in case the lottery win is far off).

There is a critical need for a larger day center. Imagine doing what Yeager does each day in one small room from a make-shift desk:

  • Provides referrals to The Wardrobe for clothing, MedZou for medical care, New Horizons and Burrell Behavioral for mental health services, Veterans Administration Homeless Outreach Program, Phoenix Programs and Daybreak for addiction counseling and treatment and the Boone County Health Department and other agencies as needed;
  • With a financial boost from Voluntary Action Center, gives logistical help for obtaining birth certificates, Social Security cards and IDs (all needed for employment) and city bus tickets for job interviews and medical appointments (the regularly updated "jobs" board is a vital part of the Center).
  • On top of all this, he models mutual respect and keeps order in situations where tempers can flare. Before Yeager was hired at the center, none of the above services was offered, and he has been instrumental in forging personal connections with all agencies mentioned.

This October, the center’s lease with Columbia Housing Authority will be up. The space is needed for family housing. This is not an insensitive decision on CHA’s part; the waiting list for affordable housing in Columbia is staggering.

Donations from a handful of faith communities and individuals barely cover monthly expenses. A larger space or new building can only be realized if the Columbia community shares responsibility.

There is a role for investors, developers, builders, bankers, architects, students, persons of every income level and the City Council in finding a larger building or working together to build a new one.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp has been a major spokesman for the community to secure a better shelter, and we invite First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt and the rest of the council to support the allocation of surplus funds for the day-center project.

We believe if Columbia residents were to help in designing, building and maintaining a revitalized center, chances are it would be "green" and attractive (inside and out) and appreciated by members of our community whose lives have come apart for numerous reasons but who yearn for safe, clean shelter and needed services on a daily basis.

Anna and I encourage our community to take a chance on this enterprise by backing it financially, providing skilled services to a relocation or building project and spending time getting to know the people who will use it.

A day center could be equipped to respectfully accommodate all of the people needing to be served, with office space for the manager to meet privately with individuals and families to sort out concerns and make connections with available resources.

It would transform our community from a city where we look out primarily for ourselves to a community which would honor the dignity of each person.

Yeager says it best: “I’ll take the ‘chair warmers’ right along with the ones who leave the place with a lead from the job board, or a list of agencies, or referral slips that will get medicine for their child, or the name of a landlord who is sympathetic in today’s economy.  . . . They come to me scared and alone and clueless. I try to keep them from leaving that way.”

To get involved, come to a task force meeting at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church on the third Thursday of each month at 3:30 p.m. Or contact the Rev. Steven Swope at Columbia United Church of Christ, 445-7931.

Anna Estevez and Virginia Bzdek are Columbia residents.

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Jimmy Bearfield June 12, 2013 | 10:37 a.m.

Instead of one large facility, how about multiple smaller ones around the city? Banks that own foreclosed homes in middle-class neighborhoods could donate them for use as a place for these kinds of people to get the help they need, as well as shower, do laundry, etc.

This would make it easier for these people to get help by eliminating the need for them to travel across the city. It also would enable people in those neighborhoods, especially their children, to interact with people of different social classes. Finally, vacant homes now would be filled with people and life and laughter.

Wouldn't this be a win-win?

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