Columbia council to open expanded downtown shelter for homeless by Sept. 30

cleblanc@thestate.comSeptember 17, 2013 

The homeless stand in line waiting for dinner at Ebenezer Lutheran church in Columbia on a Tuesday evening in March 2013.

TIM DOMINICK — tdominick@thestate.com Buy Photo

— Columbia’s around-the-clock shelter for the homeless will open by the end of September, operate for seven full months and homeless adults will have to sign up to use its services at a Main Street location, City Council decided Tuesday.

That last provision caused considerable debate during council’s meeting because it was added late to the contract for Christ Central Ministries to operate the shelter that for years has been open only for an evening snack and overnight sleeping.

“It was in very fine print in the middle of the contract,” said Ellen Cooper, a leader in some city center neighborhoods and a critic of the plan to operate the shelter 24/7.

Christ Central leader, pastor Jimmy Jones, told council he does not know who added the provision to perform intake functions at his ministry’s Hope Plaza at Main and Calhoun streets. But Jones said that is where it was done last season when Christ Central operated the shelter.

This year, Cooper and others countered, Christ Central will be directing far more homeless people to a shelter that will be open throughout the day and night. The shelter’s new role is to divert its clients to providers who can help with their individual needs, which range from job placement or training to medical, psychiatric or substance abuse services.

Council asked Jones and city staffers to work on finding another intake location away from the city center because that will aggravate neighbors and businesses that want homeless people to stop damaging their properties or bothering their customers.

The shelter also will serve three meals daily to its clients as the city moves toward centralizing meals provided by churches and private groups throughout the downtown area into one site – the shelter. City leaders have yet to work out how that will be accomplished.

Jones also said Tuesday that meals served at the shelter will be prepared at three of Christ Central’s government-approved kitchens in metropolitan Columbia. Jones declined to say which ones.

Jones told council that Christ Central welcomes help from groups that prepare and serve meals to contribute to those served at the shelter.

The city’s contract with Christ Central would pay the non-profit group $547,000 to run the shelter for seven months, Jones said. That’s well below the $1.2 million he calculated it will cost to provide all the services the city wants there, he said.

Jones has said previously that his organization will absorb the difference this season.

Several people in the audience raised questions about many aspects of the contract and Christ Central’s plans. Some exchanges got testy.

That prompted Councilman Cameron Runyan, the chief architect on council for moving homeless people out of the city center, to say: “We need to give this a chance to work – not look for why it won’t work. It’s going to be one of our greatest hours.”

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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