Homeless Shelters Prepare for Influx

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COLUMBIA - With the official start to winter coming Thursday, Dec. 21, homeless shelters around Columbia are gearing up for an influx of nightly guests. 

The Room at the Inn starts its winter schedule Sunday, with plans to provide nightly shelters through March 10 this year, 19 days longer than last season. 

The Salvation Army's Harbor House is keeping an eye on the weather. Although it's stayed warm so far, when it drops below 45 degrees they open their doors to those looking to escape the cold. 

"When the weather changes, which is also one of the concerns we have when the weather turns cold, we have what are called cold cots," Area Business Administrator Major Jack Holloway said.

The Harbor House has 60 permanent beds for men, women and families. But, when homeless seek nightly shelter to avoid the cold, the house has about 10 cold cots, which are about the size of a stretcher, to give them a warm place to sleep.

"Usually they get here at four, although sometimes it's a bit later," Harbor House employee Douglass Fiser said. "Usually we'll do intake on them unless they're a regular and we know them, then they can come in and make themselves comfortable."

Fiser said they almost never have too many people show up and can't provide enough cold cots.

"People that are on the street, people that don't have another place to go, instead of just staying outside, there's a place for them to go that's going to keep them warm," Holloway said. 

Fiser said they provide a hot dinner every night and a place to relax until bedtime, which is around nine o'clock. In the morning they provide breakfast and a cup of coffee until they have to leave around 8 a.m.