As temperatures drop, Columbia warming centers open

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COLUMBIA - As the temperature in Mid-Missouri begins to drop, warming centers and shelters are opening up around Columbia for those in need.

The Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services coordinates a network of warming centers around the city for community members to take solace from harsh winter weather. Each warming center is unique in its own way, with some offering Wi-Fi and others with free computers and books for people to use. 

The ARC (Activity and Recreation Center) in Columbia is one of the city's popular warming centers.

"During the cold months we definitely see a rise of people that come in to get out of the weather," said Operations and Programming Supervisor for the ARC Brian Higginbotham. "When the windchills are really low, people that need to come in may not have the clothing that they need to be out in those elements so we more than welcome those people to come in and feel comfortable." 

He also said the ARC staff sees a wide variety of people coming into their lobby to escape the cold.

"It could be people waiting on rides after school or someone making a walk over to Gerbes and just wanting to get out of the cold wind. Just somebody that just wants to come in and waste a few minutes and then head back out," said Higginbotham.

Higginbotham stressed the importance of being informed about warming center locations in the community.

"That way if they need to pop into certain places they don't have to be out there an extended amount of time. It could even save lives," he said.

Columbia's warming centers include the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services, the ARC, the Columbia Public Library, Armory Sports Center, Boone County Government Center, Salvation Army, and St. Francis House.

Public Relations Manager for the Columbia Public Library Mitzi St. John feels Warming Centers are a valuable part of the Columbia community. 

"So they have an opportunity to get in out of the cold, and it just improves their quality of life. I think it's a very good thing that this community does," St. John said.

The library offers seating on all three levels and even a reading room on the third floor.

"We know a lot of people take advantage of what we have here at the library. When people come in to get warm, not only do they get warm, but they can check out a book, use a free computer, listen to an audiobook, read a magazine," St. John said. "The library is seen as a community center, and as part of the community we wanted to open our doors and let people know that yes they can come here to get warm."

Warming centers are available to the general public during each business's normal business hours. The public is allowed access to areas such as lobbies, restrooms, chairs and benches.