Columbia shelters fill up, feed more as homeless move inside

jself@thestate.comJanuary 29, 2014 

Homeless shelters in Columbia neared and, in some instances, exceeded capacity as snow blanketed the Midlands Tuesday night and temperatures lingered below freezing Wednesday.

Shelter operators made arrangements to take in additional homeless people or take them to Columbia’s temporary shelters.

The city’s warming centers opened Tuesday at 10 a.m. at Martin Luther King Park, near Five Points, and Hyatt Park, in the Eau Claire community. They will remain open until noon Thursday, unless freezing temperatures and winter weather persist longer, said Leshia Utsey, a city spokeswoman.

Only six people sought emergency shelter in the city’s warming centers Tuesday night, including four residents who did not have heat, and two homeless men Columbia police brought to the shelters, interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago said Wednesday.

Craig Currey, chief executive officer of Transitions homeless shelter on Main Street, said the center’s 255 beds have been full this week, and some homeless stayed in an area normally set up for daytime-only use.

By about 3 p.m. Wednesday, an additional 30 homeless people, above the center’s capacity, had come to the center seeking shelter. Some, Currey said, had slept Tuesday night outdoors and did not want to do that again.

Seven were being sent to Oliver Gospel Mission, located not far from Transitions, at Assembly and Taylor streets. Twenty-three others were being taken to the Martin Luther King Park shelter, including seven women, Currey said Wednesday.

Oliver Gospel Mission has been operating at capacity, providing sleeping space for about 130 homeless men — 100 on beds and about 30 on temporary mats, said Wayne Fields, the mission’s executive director.

In extreme cold, Oliver Gospel allows homeless from the community to stay inside the center during the day to get out of the freezing weather, he said. That means the shelter has been serving more lunchtime meals in addition to the dinners it regularly provides. Typically, the center’s daytime services, which include lunch, are only for participants in its recovery program, a smaller group.

Despite the added meals that Oliver Gospel is serving, the shelter’s food stores are in “good shape,” Fields said, adding the public answered his plea earlier this week for food, bottled water, flashlights and other supplies. “The community really came to the rescue,” he said. “We’re keeping bread in about five different places.”

Another 240 adults can stay at the city’s emergency shelter near Broad River. About noon Wednesday, the center had about 235 clients, both men and women, checked in to spend the night, said Jimmy Jones, a pastor and chief executive of Christ Central Ministries, which is overseeing the shelter’s operations.

That number was up from 225 Tuesday night but consistent with occupancy numbers during the coldest days of the season, Jones said.

Jones said he did not expect the city shelter to overflow. Before reaching the shelter’s occupancy limit, staff would work with other providers to shelter those in need, he said.

Staff writer Clif LeBlanc contributed. Reach Self at (803) 771-8658.

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