As Columbia’s homeless lose a site for meals, city seeks a solution

brantin@thestate.comApril 1, 2013 

— ONLINE:

The closing of one of Columbia’s major sites for feeding the homeless is forcing many to look elsewhere for their evening meals.

But city officials say they are helping those seeking help find other locations until a more long-term solution can be found, hopefully as soon as next week. Meanwhile, other agencies that provide similar services are bracing for an expected increase of people.

This all comes after an agreement between the Salvation Army and Ebenezer Lutheran Church to provide nighttime meals for the homeless expired Sunday. The program had run three years and served about 150 people each day at the church at 1301 Richland St.

City Council will begin looking for new options April 9 after postponing discussions last week and passing on a stopgap plan that would have moved the site to the city’s winter shelter. City manager Teresa Wilson said council members wanted to consider all their options rather than settle on a temporary plan.

“Hopefully we can make it through a week and allow everyone to talk it through more fully on April 9,” Wilson said.

Until then, the police department and city community development staff will help direct people to one of several places they can get a meal. “There are a lot of feeding programs that go on every day,” Wilson said.

One of the largest is Oliver Gospel Mission, which serves breakfast and dinner to about 300 people each day.

Jeremy Laughead, director of community ministry at the downtown mission, said about 60 percent of the meals are served during the evening hours. Recipients must attend one of the mission’s regular chapel services to receive a ticket for two meals.

Laughead said the mission is prepared for additional walk-ups this week.

“Anytime one of our partner service agencies ceases a service, we expect to see an increase,” he said. “One of the things that we always aim to do is to make sure that we have enough food. It’s exceedingly rare that we run out.”

Oliver Gospel Mission is one of more than 15 groups that provide meals for the city’s homeless. Other major groups include Christ Central, Columbia Metro Baptist Food Pantry, Harvest Hope Food Bank, DePorres Catholic Church, Trinity Episcopal and Washington Street United Methodist Church.

While most serve breakfast and lunch each day, a handful also provide evening meals at various times and locations throughout the week.

Laughead said anyone who needs a meal in the city typically knows where to find one.

“The homeless community is probably one of the most well-connected communities on the planet,” he said. “Most of the people that we serve, when they see someone who is not from around here, they reach out to them and see what’s going on.”

Even so, many believe that creating a centralized location with restrooms and other facilities is crucial and would cut back on problems like panhandling, trespassing and public urination that are more common when people have to move around for food.

Some groups said they were caught unaware that the Ebenezer evening meal program had ended.

“We don’t have a solution because we don’t have a (large enough) place,” Judy Turnipseed, a board member of Homeless Helping Homeless, said Monday. “We’re going to the City Council meeting to find a solution.”

Wilson said the city will make every effort to ensure no one lacks a place to eat in the meantime.

“We’re well aware of the situation and my staff is prepared to be very present and diligent over the next week (helping identify resources),” she said.

Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.

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