Columbia warming centers provide shelter from bitter cold

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COLUMBIA - With temperatures dropping into the single digits, more people are turning to warming centers to escape the cold.

Wednesday's high temperature is forecast to be 19 degrees, and wind chills, especially overnight, may drop below zero.

These low temperatures could affect people without heat or a place to stay.

The City of Columbia offers warming and cooling centers, which are areas open to the general public that allows people to step inside and warm up. They are open throughout the building's normal business hours.

If needed, shelters provide sleeping accommodations.

One building that offers a warming and cooling service is the Activity and Recreation Center. ARC Supervisor Brian T. Higginbotham said the location and size are perfect for accommodations.

“We are a public building, so 73,000 square feet here, and we’re located kind of centrally here between residential areas, businesses, so there’s a lot of foot traffic.”

The ARC offers chairs and food options.

“A warming center for us is basically just a being a host site for somebody can walk through the door. There’s no admission or anything. We have a concessionary with tables and chairs for people to sit down, get warm. We also have a hallway with some little sofa-type chairs. Basically that’s what we offer,” Higginbotham said.

He said the ARC gives people who don’t have shelter another option.

“It’s a good service that the city can provide people that, you know, don’t have shelter this time of year, when you have freezing cold temperatures,” Higginbotham said.

One frequent ARC user said the atmosphere is warm and inviting.

“It’s great. You have a very nice temperature in here. If people want to come over here and warm up and it’s cold outside, it’s a good place to come,” Raul Costillo said.

Higginbotham said people don’t have to feel embarrassed or worry they might be  asked why they've come to the ARC.

“We welcome people," he said, “We don’t keep a head count on who comes in to warm up in a public building. We don’t really keep track of who’s here for warming, who’s here for exercising because we do have a free area in our lobby,” Higginbotham said.

The city's website has a list of all the warming and cooling areas available.