Local Shelter Looks to Fill Beds Despite Freezing Temperatures

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COLUMBIA - Beds were available at a local shelter Sunday night that some people are say is saving lives. The Room at the Inn is a program organized by faith-based communities in Columbia. Five churches rotate housing people in need of a place to sleep from January 1 until the end of March. The Room at the Inn is considered a ‘damp shelter,' which means guests do not need a police pass and are not questioned about their soberness upon arrival. Drugs, alcohol and weapons are not allowed on site.

The current location  at the Broadway Christian Church is prepared to care for 40 people, but not all of the beds are being filled. Coordinators said the shelter has an average of 30 guests each night, but there is room to grow if more people take advantage of the nightly shelter.

If more guests arrive than what each designated location can handle, organizers will arrange for guests to be transferred to new locations.

The program's mission is to provide warm and safe places for people to sleep during the coldest months of the year. Most guests are bused to the shelter's designated location by a shuttle from Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen. People are allowed to check-in until 8 p.m. Guests are given dinner upon arrival and have the option to eat breakfast, but must leave at 7 a.m.

Coordinator Janet Schisser said she enjoys building relationships with the guests.

"Just being here and getting to know some really good people, and the knowledge that I'm doing what God wants me to do and what he tells all of us to do is to help each other, that's the goal," said Schisser.

She said the entire community should work together to address homelessness.

"Homelessness is a community problem, and therefore the whole community needs to be a part of the solution," Schisser said.

This year, the City of Columbia provided the program with bus passes, the police department provides officers to patrol the each site and the University of Missouri Medical Center provided the program with linen.

Guest Kevin Reynolds said the program is saving lives.

"I decided to come because it's cold on the streets and it's almost impossible to live out there. This is a very wonderful place, its clean, good people... it ain't going to be any fun on the streets," said Reynolds.

He said he has nothing to complain about.

"If it weren't for these people we'd be dead. We'd be in bad shape," Reynolds said.

Last year the Room at the Inn had 350 volunteers. Organizers said they have about half of their shifts filled and are in need of assistance. Volunteers must go through a training and minor background check.