Columbia looks to find a daytime home for the homeless

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COLUMBIA - Rain, sleet or snow, Jonathan Smith sits at the corner of 9th and Cherry Streets barricaded between trash and recycle bins every day.

He is part of the homeless community in Columbia, and has been for the past seven years.

"Everyone's got their own suffering, but it's my own ignorance that got me here. So, I don't try to hate on other people," Smith said

The city of Columbia's Community Development department wants to get people such as Smith off of the streets on bitter cold winter days and into a warm, safe environment. 

The department will meet Wednesday with various nonprofit organizations in Columbia to discuss how the city would go about opening a homeless drop-in center.

"We really want to inform local nonprofit organizations of the available city resources going toward the homeless drop-in center project and how they can apply for those resources," said Randy Cole, housing programs supervisor.

A homeless drop-in center has been a long identified community need for a number of years, Cole said.

In 2013, the City Council allocated $126,741 to the department in order to purchase a permanent site for the drop-in center. The land designated for the center is located on North 8th Street and would be leased out to a nonprofit by the city.

Community Development hopes nonprofit organizations will create proposals outlining a building design, how they plan to provide services to the homeless and what the future of the drop-in center could look like.

The city requires the proposals for the land to include these services: reduced exposure to weather, mail service, shower and locker rooms, basic needs, and intake and referral services.

"The city would prefer that they also use some other partnering organizations that provide a variety of services maybe mental health, substance abuse treatment or employment services," Cole said.

The Voluntary Action Center in Columbia serves a large population of low-income and homeless people in the community and said it is looking forward to what the city has to offer at tonight's meeting.

"Bottom line, we need a day center and I think the city is very much aware of the issues and they know what needs to be done," said Nick Foster, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center. 

The city will send requests for proposals in February and nonprofit organizations will have until April 30 to turn in their proposals. Then by April 2016, community development hopes to make funds available for the project.

"We're better as a community as needs are being met for everyone," Foster said.