Center Believes Vandals from Homeless Shelter

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COLUMBIA - Oakland Senior Center managers said Monday they believe the source of vandalism at the center is the new "Room at the Inn" homeless shelter across the street.

Center managers first noticed the vandalism Jan. 9.  These incidents include theft of small items, rummaging through trash dumpsters, spilling a cigarette ashtray, and profane graffiti.  All of these incidents occurred in the back side of the senior center's property.

"We aren't 100 percent certain that it's people using the homeless shelter," said Oakland Senior Center administrator Brenda Woods.  "We know this vandalism began right around the same time the shelter opened."

The new Room at the Inn shelter reopened on Jan. 4 at the former site of Total Environments Garden Center.  The senior center lies across Old Highway 63 for the Room at the Inn shelter.

Senior center officials reported the incidents to the Columbia Police Department.

"The police have been very diligent in stepping up their patrolling of the area," said Woods.  "We haven't really experienced anymore vandalism since the police have been patrolling the area more."

Room at the Inn's shelter manager, Shannon Stewart, said he's never been told about these incidents.

"If I had been told about these incidents, I would have looked more into it," said Stewart.

Woods said she has spoken to another administator at the homeless shelter, Janet Schisser.

"I'd spoken to Brenda about these incidents and went to check it out for myself," said Schisser.  "I noticed the spray-paint graffiti and looked for a can at our shelter, but didn't see anything.  I'll admit we used their dumspter two times and that's been cleared.  Other than that, we've just kept surveiling our guys and gals to make sure it's not us."

Woods said the phone call with Schisser came after another incident.

"After an incident where some homeless people walked into our facility and asked to bathe, we knew we had to talk to their shelter," said Woods.

The lease on the building Room at the Inn is using is over at the end of Februrary, with a chance to stay a few more weeks.