By Fred Koenig
Columbia’s emergency winter shelter for the homeless continues to evolve, and support from United Methodist Churches remain at its core.
The Room At the Inn ministry started as a temporary shelter for extremely cold weather at Missouri UMC five years ago. The following year it was run as a two-month long shelter at Missouri UMC, with volunteer support from other churches. The next year it was in a smaller, donated commercial space, again staffed with volunteers from various churches. Last year Wilkes Boulevard UMC hosted the shelter the entire two months, with ecumenical volunteer support.
This year five churches are taking turns hosting, with each doing a two-week shift. The churches are Broadway Christian, Calvary Episcopal, Missouri UMC, Sacred Heart Catholic and Community UMC. Missouri UMC provides its van to take the homeless from Wilkes Blvd. UMC (where they get a free meal every night) to the church that is hosting that week. Missouri UMC has also been providing transportation on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and opening its doors during those times so people have a warm place to go until public buildings open later in the morning.
Although the Room at the Inn starts in January, this winter the Unitarian Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, took the concept and offered a similar shelter for three weeks in December.
“There’s a committee that’s been working hard at this, and we’re hoping that in a year or two we will have a permanent, year-round service available,” said Rev. Larry Williams, pastor of administration for Missouri UMC.