Interfaith Resource Center Begins Renovations

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Interfaith Resource Center began the process of finding a new location because of excessive overcrowding and a lack of adequate facilities.

"I've only got 222 usable square feet that these people can use," said Dahne Yeager, manager of the day center. The one-bedroom apartment is located at 616 Park Lane in Columbia.

Yeager said he sees anywhere from 25 to 40 people come in each day.

"It depends on the weather," he said. During extreme weather, he said he's had up to 85 people before.

"There's nothing on the wall that says ‘maximum occupancy'," Yeager said. "My comfortable figure would be 15 to 20."

The new location would be 1200 to 1500 square feet.

City Manager Mike Matthes recommended an allocated total of $126,741 of surplus from the fiscal 2012 budget to buy a plot of land for a new center. The recommendation was included in a May 20 report to the Columbia City Council.

Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said the day center's relocation would be a good long-term investment for the city. "It's not costing the city any money, it's just putting money into a real-estate investment for a long period of time."

The day center's lease expires on September 30. Trapp said a local church will be hosting the day center while during the transitional period, but that church has not been revealed because the church's board still needs to make a formal decision.

Steve Swope, president of the board of directors for the Columbia Interfaith Resource Center, has been working on finding a new location for the day center for about three years.

"We don't have any private rooms for people from MedZou to come out and do health checks. We don't have room for the Voluntary Action Center or the Veterans Association to come out and do social work," Swope said. "It's just one big room and the patio out back."

Swope said Columbia has over 200 homeless people and the problem will not simply go away if ignored.

"Solving homelessness has been one the city's top priorities over the past several years," he said. "Most of these people have jobs but aren't able to make rent anymore, so they are homeless."

There is no exact location picked out yet but it will be somewhere between Garth and College avenues and between Broadway and Business Loop 70, Swope said. That location is favored because of bus route accessibility.

"Once the city has purchased a piece of property, they will put out a request for proposal and any agency, including ours, can apply to provide services at that location," Swope said.

Swope said there will be at least six months before a piece of land will be selected, but he emphasized that there is no definite time line for the project.

Nick Foster, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center in Columbia, said one of the reasons the day center needs an expansion is to enhance services already provided. He thinks the money allocated by the city is a sound investment. "It's something that benefits all of us.

The current day center does not have enough space to provide overnight stays, health checks or Internet. It is only capable of giving referrals.

Heath Shipman said he visits the day center about three times each week. He said he comes in to get out of the heat and to take a shower because he has no place else to go. Shipman also gets bus vouchers and tickets to The Wardrobe for clothes.

"It's a quick stop to make to get a lot of things done," he said. He's hopeful that the new location will provide laundry service.

Yeager does all of the cleaning and serving and said he stays from early morning hours until mid-afternoon. He also serves lunch at noon four days each week.

A typical lunch consists of bologna sandwiches, mixed vegetables and a variety of granola bars. All of the food comes from local donors like St. Vincent de Paul.

"The purpose of the day center is to help the people that are newly homeless and the ones that definitely want to get out of the situation that they're in," Yeager said. "I provide referrals to service providers that can do that."

Foster said the facility hardly provides shelter alone, much less any other services.

"The current situation with the day center is inadequate," Foster said. "For me personally, you walk in and there's this sense of urgency to do something."