The City of Columbia on Tuesday unveiled a new concept to provide services to chronically homeless people in the city.
City officials announced the construction of a transitional housing project to be built on city property at 194 Calhoun Street, where the former Adverse Weather Center was located.
The site will now be known as Rapid Shelter Columbia and will feature 50 sleeping cabins, each designed to accommodate one person, with 40 for men and 10 for women. The communal dormitories that already exist on the Calhoun Street site will continue to be used to accommodate the excess population in the event of inclement weather.
Construction on the project will be managed by the city and is expected to begin later this month. The goal is to have all 50 sleeping cabins completed and ready for use by November.
Palette, the company that makes the sleeping cabins, is based in Everett, Washington, with several staff members who have experienced homelessness in the past. Pallet sleeping cabin projects have been successfully built in places such as Boston and Sonoma County, California.
When complete, Rapid Shelter Columbia will be open year-round, will include 24-hour security, on-site case management services, and catering services.
City officials also announced that they will be hiring a new homeless services coordinator for the city who will work with various programs and services for the homeless population.
Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann and other city officials said the need to find solutions to the homelessness crisis has become more urgent in recent months as the number of chronically homeless people in the region continued to increase. He said the increase has led to a corresponding increase in calls to law enforcement and other officials about crime, public urination and defecation, begging and other issues. .
There has also been an increase in the number of homeless people needing help with mental health issues and other services, he said.
“It is estimated that we currently have at least 250 chronically homeless people in the city, and we want to help them have a place to lay their heads,” Rickenmann said. “This is just a step, not something that will solve all our problems. Until today we had no options for chronically homeless people in Colombia, and now we will.
Columbia is the first city in the Southeast to launch a temporary housing project like this, Rickenmann said.
The Rapid Shelter will not only be a benefit to its customers, but also to businesses in downtown and other areas of the city, said Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.
“This homelessness epidemic has impacted businesses in the city,” Blackstone said. “It’s not that they (businesses) don’t want to help, but they also have to make a living, and the increase in the number of chronically homeless people on the streets has raised concerns among customers about safety. , especially at night.
Rapid Shelter will not be available for “walk-in services”, officials said, meaning unsheltered people cannot simply arrive and find accommodation. Cabin residents will first need to be screened by local homeless service providers and other experts to ensure they are a good fit for Rapid Shelter.
City Manager Teresa Wilson said Rapid Shelter is the result of months of work and study by a city’s homelessness task force. She said the new project is specifically designed to help men and women who, for many different reasons, are not good candidates for traditional homeless shelters.
The construction cost of the Palette cabin community is estimated at $800,000, officials said.
“We have many people living outside of downtown and on the outskirts of town who are resisting the services already in place and choosing to be on the streets,” Wilson said. “It has been found that this population often does better in housing where they can have a single room to themselves instead of being in collective housing. It is a way to provide them with housing and services with dignity and compassion.
Officials have not yet determined how long residents will be allowed to stay in the cabins, but said the project will be designed as a temporary shelter while efforts are made to move customers into permanent accommodation.
The city will work over the next few months to hire three full-time staff members to oversee the management and day-to-day operations of Rapid Shelter Columbia.
Contact Christina Lee Knauss at 803-753-4327.