State lawmakers allocated $6 million in federal funds to the Voluntary Action Center in Columbia for a homeless center.
The legislature passed the American Rescue Plan Act budget during a late-night session last Friday.
Ed Stansberry, executive director of social services organization Voluntary Action Center, said his optimism is cautious, as Gov. Mike Parson has not yet signed the budget.
Currently, the VAC team — which is made up of Loaves and Fishes, Room at the Inn, Love Columbia, Turning Point and the Columbia Housing Authority — is in a planning process with the city for its proposed Opportunity Campus.
The Opportunity Campus is the VAC’s plan to incorporate all its affiliate social services organizations into one place. Its goal is to provide both immediate and ongoing assistance to those experiencing homelessness in a single place.
The city is going through the planning phase to allocate its own ARPA funds. A planning grant for a comprehensive homelessness center was awarded in February to the Columbia Housing Authority but also has involved the VAC. It is now in the process of meeting the requirements of a request for proposals. Stansberry said the plans that fall under the grant are due in August.
Stansberry said the VAC started its talks with Missouri legislators after receiving advice from “budgetary experts at the state.”Legislators told the VAC they were aware of the Opportunity Campus project, which the VAC had been working on since January 2020, and they thought it could fit into the “bucket” of ARPA funding.
Stansberry also said Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, and all of the Boone County representatives were involved in conversations surrounding the allocation of these funds.
Randy Cole, CEO of the Columbia Housing Authority, said he received word from Stansberry about the possibility of receiving the funds earlier this week. He said there could be a matching requirement for the funds.
According to the budget bill, the money was passed with the implication that the VAC would have to match the $6 million it receives from the state in order to receive the funds.
Until the VAC crosses the finish line in the process, Stansberry said, the organization will remain optimistic until the governor signs the budget, but it has “completely embraced the matching component to it.”
“We’ve only seen this as a public-private partnership,” Stansberry said. “So we will have private funds from individuals and businesses and foundations as well as hopefully funds from the city and county to help complete the funding that will allow us to get this project underway.”
Reactions from city officials were cautiously favorable of the possibility of receiving the funds. City spokesperson Sydney Olsen said the city was not in talks with state representatives involved but is excited about the possibility of having additional resources for the unsheltered population.
Olsen also said the city has not had the chance to review the legislation in its entirety.
First Ward City Council member Pat Fowler said if the VAC is getting revenue to fund the project elsewhere, it would be given to the City Council in the form of a report “at some point.” She also said the city has not yet determined the exact amount of ARPA funds it has allocation power over. She has drafted up a list of questions for City Manager De’Carlon Seewood to answer.
“We are expecting De’Carlon to answer questions about this at the next meeting, though,” Fowler said.
Fourth Ward council member Nick Foster said he is pleased to see the money allocated, assuming the governor signs the budget.
“The council has already identified addressing a homeless services center as a priority,” Foster said.
Fifth Ward council member Matt Pitzer also said he is happy to see the state “stepping in” and seeing where projects need additional funding. He added the boost from the state is great for the VAC’s plan.
Second Ward council member Andrea Waner echoed those sentiments, saying it is a great opportunity to leverage money in various capacities.
“It’s an opportunity for the city, the state and the county to all work together to address something that’s a big issue in our community,” Waner said.