A new initiative aimed at helping Colombia’s chronically homeless population is set to start on November 1, according to city officials.
Rapid Shelter Columbia is a transitional housing project on city lot at 194 Calhoun Street. It consists of 50 individual dormitories, 40 male and 10 female. The new facility will be open year-round and will include 24-hour security, on-site case management services and catering services.
Manufactured by Pallet of Everett, Washington, the sleeper cabins feature a bed, heating and air conditioning, electricity, and USB charging ports. The project includes a total of 54 of the cabins, four of which are earmarked for staff and security use.
Mayor Daniel Rickenmann and other city and community leaders provided updated information on the new project and showed community members some of the completed sleeping pods at an event on October 26. Some cabins are under construction.
The project is the result of months of work by a city task force on homelessness, and aims to help men and women who are not good candidates for traditional community-based homeless shelters.
“This is a new era for tackling homelessness here in Colombia and offers these men and women a worthy option to get the help they need,” said City Manager Teresa Wilson.
Officials estimate that about 250 people in the city fit the project’s target audience. The number of people classified as chronically homeless has risen in recent months, prompting an increase in calls to law enforcement and other officials about crime, public urination and defecation, begging and other issues, city officials said. Some downtown Columbia businesses said customers have expressed concerns about safety.
Many of the people living on the streets also have physical and mental health needs that the new shelter can help address, officials said.
“This is a short-term solution to a long-term problem, and it won’t solve the problem of homelessness in Colombia, but it will help reduce it,” Rickenmann said.
The city also recently hired a new Director of Homeless Services, Kameisha Heppard, whose responsibilities will include the development of Rapid Shelter Columbia.
Heppard said customers would only come to Rapid Shelter through recommendation of other services. The clerks will soon start evaluating the applications and hope to be able to accommodate 10 people in the emergency accommodation after the opening. Customers can stay at the shelter for up to 90 days. The shelter is only open to people who lived within the city limits.
“I look forward to doing something here that has never been done before in the Southeast,” Heppard said. “The goal will be to provide stabilization to these clients, whether they need mental health services, substance abuse help, or other issues. We want to help address what drove them into homelessness.”
Heppard said the shelter will offer some on-site customer services and transportation will be provided to help customers get to doctor’s appointments, job interviews and other appointments.
The ultimate goal will be to guide clients to some form of permanent housing, Heppard said.
Safety and security are a major concern with this new project, which the city plans to address with 24-hour security provided by a private company. Columbia City Police Chief WH “Skip” Holbrook said the department will work with shelter staff and the security firm to resolve any issues that escalate and require law enforcement intervention.
There will be a strong focus on conflict resolution, de-escalation of situations and addressing mental health needs, Holbrook said.
The shared housing already in place at the Calhoun Street site will continue to be used to accommodate a crowded population during inclement weather.
Reach Christina Lee Knauss at 803-753-4327.