Room At The Inn Volunteers Receive Additional Help

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COLUMBIA- On Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, Columbia City Council approved $10,000 in overtime for police security at winter-only homeless shelter, Room at the Inn.

Security not only provides a safe environment for the homeless but for the volunteers as well. Shannon Stewart, the site manager of Room at the Inn, said the police officer is more of a calming presence at the shelter.

"Most of these officers know who these guys are and its really made our guests feel a lot more comfortable but it's definitely made our volunteers feel more comfortable," Room at the Inn site manager Shannon Stewart said.

Ten partner congregations staff volunteers at Room at the Inn, according to Schisser. After four training sessions, the 160 volunteers were ready to work. Each congregation reserve a specific amount of time, ranging from two days to one week.

Tammy Reeder has been a volunteer for the Room at the Inn since it opened in 2010. For the first two years, she stayed behind the scenes. Reeder would bring in hot food and wash the bedding. Now, Reeder is doing a little bit of everything, volunteering behind the scenes and at the shelter itself.

"I felt that I should give some of my time doing this, as well as being behind the scenes and I like to meet these people. I feel its important to interact with them," Reeder said.

During its second season, Room at the Inn spent $4,675 for private security for the safety of its occupants and volunteers. When planning for the 2013 winter season, volunteer coordinator Janet Schisser and a task force of approximately 18 people began meeting in July to set up policies and procedures.

Schisser contacted Ward 2 Council Member Mike Trapp about city-funded police security. With a consensus from the city council and in conversation with the city manager Mike Matthes, Trapp discovered that the Columbia Police Department would not be able to have a consistent presence there without city funding. The city decided to dip into its contingency funds to fund police overtime at the shelter, otherwise the process to get approval for funding would have taken too long.

"The city can't do anything without putting out a call for proposals and that's a six to eight month process," Trapp said.

With approved overtime from the City Council, the Columbia Police Department provides one officer to Room at the Inn. From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., the officer will be there for the intake process, according to Sgt. Joseph Bernhand. Each officer receives time and a half for his work at the shelter, $84 to $108 per three-hour assignment, according to Sgt. Bernhand.

"I know that the people who volunteer feel really blessed and grateful for their jobs and their homes and the food you have. I just think we have a duty to share that with other people," Reeder said.

With the city's help for this winter season, Schisser is hopeful that support from the community will continue to grow and possibly make Room at the Inn a permanent addition to Columbia.