City of Columbia officials held a press conference October 26 with Mayor Daniel Rickenmann, City Councilwoman Aditi Bussells, City Manager Teresa Wilson, Assistant City Manager Henry Simons, and Homeless Services Director Kameisha Heppard speaking to media representatives and local homeless services partners to update the status of the Rapid Shelter Columbia construction project.
The concept for Rapid Shelter Columbia is the first transitional housing project of its kind to be launched in the southeast. The new temporary housing units will be built at 191 Calhoun Street. This is the site of the former Inclement Weather Center, which will now be identified as Rapid Shelter Columbia. The site will include approximately 50 Pallet sleeping cabins, which will be a part of a new construction plan. The congregate sleeping quarters which already exist on the property will continue to be utilized for overflow purposes during inclement weather nights.
The 50 individuals, who will be identified and designated to utilize the individual cabins, will also receive a full array of wrap around services from local professionals who will concentrate on assisting these persons with case management, life skills, and arrangements for permanent housing. Local subject matter experts and homeless services providers will play a vital role in helping to screen and identify the individuals who will be housed in the Rapid Shelter Columbia cabins.
The ultimate goal is to utilize the cabins for temporary transitional housing and then repeat the cycle for additional persons who are chronically unsheltered. Construction is currently in progress, and 50 pallet shelters are being built at the site. Each pallet shelter will accommodate a single occupant.
Various City of Columbia departments/divisions have contributed to the success of the ongoing construction including Parks and Recreation, Fire Department, Police Department/ Code Enforcement, Utilities, Engineering, Public Works, and Support Services. Construction of the pallet shelters is being performed by city staff from these departments. Rapid Shelter Columbia opened November 1.
Mayor Daniel Rickenmann said, “This project came from an email to research to reality in less than 70 days. This is temporary; our long term goal is to provide permanent solutions through the wrap around services that will be provided to each and every individual who is suffering through homelessness.”
Councilwoman Aditi Bussells said, “This is something that affects everyone. No neighbor, no citizen should be forced to live on the street. We knew by November 1 when typically temperatures drop we had to do something, and in our research and our conversations with providers and community members we realized no one was actually focused on this specific population.”
City Manager Teresa Wilson said, “I’m so grateful, so extremely proud of this team. It has just been the epitome of what Columbia is, coming together making something happen or our community. I feel confident from the city’s perspective, we’re looking at a new era to help end homelessness in our community.”
Assistant City Manager Henry Simons said, “ We are finalizing construction of pallet shelters for our chronically unsheltered homeless population. Fifty of these shelters are 64 square foot units that will house one person each. Each unit is equipped with an air condition unit, heat, a fire extinguisher, convenience outlets with two USB ports, emergency exit door, and one bed.”
Homeless Services Director Kameisha Heppard said, “I’m excited about doing something that has never been done before. I’m encouraged because I’m a part of a great community where the resources already exist so it will not be a hard thing bringing individuals experiencing homelessness into these single occupancy pallets.”