Columbia homeless shelter opens early as temperatures plummet

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COLUMBIA - With temperatures falling into single digits, winter weather has arrived in Columbia. But not everybody has a place to evade the cold.

Room at the Inn is a program in Columbia that has provided shelter for homeless citizens for eight winters. This year, it is open early just in time for the low temperatures.

"The Unitarian Universalist Church came to us and asked to open two weeks earlier, and they'd provide a site for those two weeks," said shelter operations coordinator Jim Jantz. "We had this cold snap, and I think everybody is glad we opened early."

The program started on December 4 instead of the initial planned opening on December 18. Besides the Unitarian Universalist Church, the program will move among five other local churches, including Fairview United Methodist, Broadway Christian Church and Missouri United Methodist.

Jantz said the Unitarian Universalist Church holds 33 cots, and typically each site can accommodate about 45 people. A receptionist at the church said the church was at capacity for the past two nights.

"I volunteered a couple nights maybe seven years ago and just getting to know the people, I really just have a heart to help those that don't have any other means of staying warm during the winter," Jantz said.

The program is open to men and women aged 18 and over. Jantz said the most difficult part for him is having to turn some people away when the church reaches capacity.

"On the coldest nights, we just don't always have enough beds," Jantz said. "Three years ago, there was a really cold snap and there were about four or five days in a row where we had to turn away three or four people each night and that is just the worst feeling you can have."

Room at the Inn will be open all day and night from Christmas Eve until the day after Christmas, as well as New Year's Eve through New Year's Day. The program will provide a holiday meal for Christmas.

The program is a part of the CoMo Gives donation campaign, and it accepts physical donations from individuals as well. If you want to donate, you may drop off materials at the active site or at the Central Missouri Community Action Building at 800 N. Providence Road.

For a list of needed donations and the shelter site schedule, visit roomattheinncomo.org.

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