City considers downtown lot for homeless drop-in center

Thursday, April 10, 2014 | 8:02 p.m. CDT; updated 6:51 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 11, 2014

COLUMBIA — The city is closing in on the purchase of a downtown lot for a drop-in center for homeless people.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the project arose as a result of the difficulty homeless people have finding space at the "Room at the Inn" winter shelter and other shelters around Columbia.

Trapp said he's received positive feedback from service providers and others about creating a permanent place for homeless to take shelter and better connect to services. He expects it will take three to five years to finish the project.

The city set aside $126,741 of its $1.9 million dollar surplus from fiscal 2012 to purchase land for the drop-in center on North Eighth Street between Columbia College and Business Loop 70. Authorization for the purchase was introduced to the City Council at its meeting Monday.

Randy Cole of the city Community Development Department said the overall vision is a permanent place where homeless people can come in off the street and get help getting back on their feet.

Ideas for the center include a community room, locker room, office space for case workers, a kitchen area and a place to receive mail, Cole said. There would be no overnight accommodations.

The lot was chosen because of its proximity to the Central Missouri Community Action's Community Support Center, Welcome Home, a shelter for homeless veterans and both locations of the Reality House, which are homes for transitioning prisoners.

Once the land purchase is authorized, Cole said, the city will take proposals from local agencies that would manage day-to-day operations, along with bringing a viable plan for constructing the center.

"Our hope is that a local agency will pick up the torch and open a homeless drop-in center on the property," Cole said.

One organization interested in managing the center is the Columbia Interfaith Resource Center. The Rev. Knute Jacobson, vice chair of the resource center, said his group has been involved with other projects to help the homeless such as the Turning Point day shelter at Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church.

Jacobson said he sees the resource center partnering with other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to give a place for providing services and working toward long-term solutions.

"A lot of the homeless in Columbia are veterans, so bringing on the VA would be really helpful," Jacobson said.

Before the resource center makes its proposal, Jacobson said, the organization would likely expand its board to increase involvement in the proposed center and ensure that it has adequate funding.

The land purchase will go before the City Council at its next meeting at 7 p.m. on April 20 at the Daniel Boone City Building.

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