In a filled City Council work session Monday, community members voiced their opinions on how Columbia should use American Rescue Plan funding.
The City of Columbia will receive $25.2 million through the American Rescue Plan Act. A PowerPoint on the eligible uses of the funds indicated four different areas in which they could be used. These include responses to public health problems or negative economic situations; premium pay for essential workers; investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure; and government services or revenue loss.
Columbia residents lined up to deliver three-minute speeches on how the money should be spent. Several spoke on the issue of homelessness.
Ed Stansberry, the executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, wants the city to create a facility called the Opportunity Campus, which would work with organizations including the Columbia Housing Authority. It would help people who are "chronically homeless, homeless, or on the verge of being homeless."
Stansberry said the goal would be for the Opportunity Campus to be open 365 days a year. Services would include shelter, food, dental care and more. The Voluntary Action Center would need $5 million in funding, whether as a one-time payment or a phased approach, according to Stansberry.
Many others expressed hope that funds be allocated to help people without housing.
Patrick Finney of Operation Safe Winter said the city should step up to help address homelessness as charities and organization can only do so much. Finney said the city has "consistently done less than the minimum year after year."
Residents at the work session also addressed community violence. Steve Calloway, a former member of the Mayor's Task Force on Community Violence, addressed public health and safety. Calloway said gun violence is a public health crisis and a mental health crisis. Calloway also emphasized the need to address domestic violence.
"The investments can bring great dividends for Columbia and all of our community, and it will save lives," Calloway said.
William Folk, an MU biochemistry professor, collaborated with students to offer a different perspective on how the funds can be allocated. He hoped the city would address climate change and help those who are most vulnerable to rising temperatures: construction workers, military personnel, agriculture workers and low-income families.
"It's not just workers who are affected," Folk said. "Many homes, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, are not equipped with air conditioning, and elderly residents may be reluctant to open the doors and windows due to fear of intrusion."
Folk said these residents are at a higher risk of being subjected to extreme indoor conditions that can induce heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses.
At the end of the work session, Mayor Brian Treece said there will be more meetings for community members to speak up on how the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds should be used.
The next City Council meeting will be on July 6 at 7 p.m.