COLUMBIA, S.C. — The City of Columbia has announced they will create a year-round rapid shelter for the unhoused in the city, complete with 50 mini pallet-style homes to give people a temporary place to stay. And for the first time ever, the city will also have a new person to coordinate Columbia's efforts to combat homelessness.
Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann joined the entire city council, City Manager Teresa Wilson, and other city leaders to outline what the city is doing. It comes six months after the city created a homeless task force to look into ways to address how it deals with the unhoused.
The city will take the city's existing inclement weather shelter--which only opens on cold nights during the winter--and make it the city's new "Rapid Shelter Columbia." It will be staffed 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.
It will have 50 pallet homes, which included a small bed and some shelving for personal items. There will be onsite bathrooms, a laundry, community rooms, and service providers. It will have 24 hour a day security as well.
Rickenmann said that at any given time the city has 250 people who are completely unsheltered. And while this will help, the mayor said it's only going to be part of the solution.
"It's not going to be something that solves all our problems or provides all the resources for our need," he said.
The shelter is only intended to be a temporary place to stay and is not for walkup housing. People would be referred there, and it would be a temporary place to stay until a more permanent solution could be found.
"I believe this is the right path so that our unsheltered homeless don't have to choose between living on the street or jail and can live with dignity," said Councilwoman Aditi Bussells, who chairs the city's homeless task force.
To that end, the city will create a new homeless "czar" (officially known as Director of Homeless Services) to oversea the city's efforts to help people who don't have a place to live. They'll work with their existing partners, such as Transitions and the United Way, to find solutions for services.
Bussells said the city has never has never had anyone accountable for the city's homeless situation. They'll be tasked with creating a one-stop shop for services and to figure out where to place people into help they need.
Councilman Will Brennan spoke about the importance of the 24/7 shelter, "The challenges that the city and region are stepping up to lead on is being the 24 hour facilitator for services, connecting individuals in need with the services they might need from our service providers and state and county departments. Homelessness doesn't go away after 5 P.M. so we need to be ready to continue the care at all hours."
City Manager Teresa Wilson said the target date to open the new rapid shelter is November 1. She said clearing a space on the property will begin in the next week and it takes about 45 minutes to stand up each individual house. She said they will be working with partners to get those units built. She said the city is also working to hire the new homeless czar.
Wilson added that the goal of these units is to give an option for individuals that may reject standard group housing.
"We are specifically targeting, and I want to be clear about that, those individuals downtown, and on the parameter, in our hospitality districts etc. that resist the services that are already in place perhaps though in a congregate shelter environment. and so that is what makes this solution a bit different."
The site for this new proposal does sit half of a mile from the intersection of Huger and Laurel Streets, a trip that could pose issues to anyone without a vehicle. Wilson said that the city hopes to provide a shuttle service for patrons through a partnership with COMET buses.