City of Columbia to Combat Homelessness with Short-Term Housing Coordinator | Colombia News

COLUMBIA — For its next step in addressing homelessness in the city, Columbia will turn its inclement weather center into year-round short-term housing for those in need.

The city will create 50 small single-occupancy housing units, transform the current inclement weather center into a shelter and hub for year-round homeless services, and hire a homelessness coordinator to oversee the program.

The city council is expected to allocate $2.6 million for the program, according to a document on its Sept. 6 agenda.

If the council approves the amendment, $800,000 will come from the city’s general fund and $1.8 million will come from US federal bailout funds.

These solutions come from the city’s Task Force to Prevent and End Homelessness, which is a group of local activists, business owners, experts, service providers and other stakeholders led by Councilor Aditi Bussells.

The working group will continue to meet and discuss how to address homelessness, including creating a set of strategies six months from now in November.

The inclement weather center would typically open Nov. 1, and the situation is urgent enough that the city wants to move forward now, Bussells said.

“It’s just one piece, but we think it’s really a key piece,” Bussells said.

Rapid Shelter Columbia

The Rapid Shelter program will house people for a few months at a time as the city works with homeless service providers to get people into permanent housing, Bussells said.

Part of the Inclement Weather Center space, which will be renamed Rapid Shelter Columbia, will operate as a traditional shelter, providing short-term beds for those in need. The rest of the building will serve as a hub for other service providers to work with the homeless.

The building’s overflow space, which has more than 180 beds, will remain open to accommodate people when the weather is 40 degrees or lower who are not part of the Rapid Shelter Columbia program, City Manager Teresa Wilson said.

In addition to this, the city will partner with the company Pallet Shelter to create a village of 50 individual short-term residences. Because the houses can be assembled in less than an hour, Bussells said the village would be finished by November 1.

Columbia could get a new homeless shelter – and it has divided the city council

There’s no set length of time for people to stay in the shelter, but Wilson said the city is working on a time limit and ways to make sure people want to leave temporary housing and settle in. into something permanent.

“The goal is for this rapid housing center to become your short-term solution to give people options until they are sorted into permanent housing,” Bussells said.

It’s a way to address chronically homeless people who may be resistant to other services, Wilson said.

Other service providers in the city, such as Transitions and United Way, offer day programs and beds for the homeless, but have restrictions that may prevent some people. In some cases, homeless people might not want to go to a shelter because it would mean staying with other people.

“We are specifically targeting people in the city center and within the perimeter of our host neighborhoods etc. who are resisting services that may already be in place, however, in a mass shelter environment,” said Wilson. “So that’s what makes this solution a bit different.”

Columbia police add clinicians as SC law enforcement focuses on mental health

By opening up a space for people who wouldn’t be in another shelter, the city is trying to keep them off the streets, where people might call the police.

“This is the right way forward in the short term so that our homeless homeless people don’t have to choose between living on the streets or in prison and can live with dignity,” Bussells said.

Homelessness Czar

With over 100 different homeless services in Colombia, the city plans to hire someone to coordinate these efforts and manage Rapid Housing Columbia.

This person will become the “go-to person” for all homeless services in the city, manage contracts and help the city continue to solve the problem.

“This homeless czar, or coordinator, will be responsible for managing all of the city’s contracts with homeless providers, developing measurable outcomes to hold the city and our partners accountable, and creating an infrastructure right here on this campus that allows people to access services seamlessly,” Bussells says.

Columbia Homeless Shelters play role in Main Street redevelopment

Bussells said she wanted someone with practical experience of homelessness in the role and encouraged people who have been homeless to apply.

The city is looking to hire the Tsar as soon as possible and will publish the job posting soon, Bussells said.

Modification of contracts

As the city moves forward with its own short-term housing, it will modify its existing contracts with homeless services to better ensure the city’s money is spent. to the achievement of the city’s objectives.

For example, it will mean adding to its contract with Transitions that a portion of city funding must be used to provide security around its perimeter to prevent vagrancy, Bussells said.

Transitions' new Columbia facility will provide affordable housing and adult child care

Combined with new city services, Bussells said this will help bring about real change.

“It’s just kind of a short-term stopgap solution for now,” Bussells said, “but eventually, over time, we think the combination of having more housing options and working more closely with a homeless czar, we’ll start to see some changes really happen.”

Continuing Work Statewide

Across the state, cities have worked to address homelessness.

Between 2019 and 2020, the most recent data available, more than 10,000 people received homelessness services, according to the South Carolina Interagency Council on Homelessness. About 250 homeless people are in Colombia, Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said.

North Charleston hired a homelessness coordinator in August to connect people to mental health resources and services.

In Greenville, the nonprofit organization United Housing Connections is expanding its housing for the chronically homeless with a new complex of 36 units, plus one downtown.

North Charleston is hiring a homelessness coordinator.  Proponents say more resources are needed.

Columbia Councilman Will Brennan called on surrounding cities and counties to help create a regional plan.

“We can be a strong foundation together to create not just the interim plan, but the best ongoing outreach that is most effective in helping those in distress,” Brennan said.

The work in Colombia is far from over, Bussells said.

The city recently expanded its Pathway Unit, a partnership of police officers and clinicians to help connect people in crisis with resources.

Columbia plans to partner with the Department of Mental Health and other state agencies to create a permanent space to address mental health needs, Brennan said.

Bussells also proposed a requirement for groups to report when they feed homeless groups, which will be brought to the city’s public safety committee for review.

And the Task Force to Prevent and End Homelessness and the city will continue to find ways to solve the problem.

“It’s not going to be something that solves all of our problems, and it certainly won’t provide all the resources for all the needs at once,” Rickenmann said. “But it will be something that continues, in which we invest.”

Click here for more Columbia news, CS