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City Update on Homelessness

Kari Utterback from the City of Columbia attended the Loop CID Board meeting this morning and offered an update on new and continuing city efforts to combat not just homelessness but the issues that often surround homelessness such as substance abuse, mental health, and job training. 

Data on Homelessness

The City participates in regular surveys of unhoused individuals in Boone County. There are currently approximately 290 unhoused individuals in the county (this does not include people who are doubling up/sleeping on a friend’s floor or are paying nightly for a hotel). This number has not changed significantly over the past few years and is clearly higher than anyone would like. 

City Programs 

Columbia has several voucher programs for those who require counseling support, those who recently lost their housing due to emergences, victims of domestic violence, and veterans. One key issue is that while there are enough vouchers, there is not enough available housing. 

The City is part of the Boone County Coalition on Homelessness, a group of government and non-profits working together to survey people in need, connect them to services, and make sure all housing vouchers are distributed. 

The City is also overseeing the distribution of ARPA funds for housing, mental health, and workforce development. 

Business Loop Specific News

Room at the Inn (RATI) is now open all year at the Ashely Street Center, by the power plant. They have 85 permanent cots and can add about 20-25 more when the temperature drops below 25 degrees. RATI is just an overnight option so people must leave during the day. Given the lack of sidewalks and safe crosswalks, the City has added a bus line to help these folks reach other areas of town. (For example, Turning Point over on Wilkes behind Hickman High opens at 3:30 and serves food.)

Voluntary Action Center’s (VAC) Opportunity Campus is still in the fundraising stage but it is planned for the open area by the power plant. There will be a shelter but also a collection of services including health/mental health care. The goal is to match people to services. However, this facility is a couple of years out. (More info at https://www.opportunitycampuscomo.org/thecampus).

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How to Report Problems

We know many people shy away from calling the police but there is a change in policy and the city is now recommending people call (573) 442-6131 for non-emergencies and 911 for emergencies. 

Here’s why:

  • CPD has a new Homeless Outreach Team of two officers who can respond to calls.
  • Soon, CPD will have co-responders on calls that involve mental health issues.
  • Dispatch will be able to send the appropriate response team based on your description of the event. No need for you to make that decision.
  • Dispatch also collects data on these calls so the city can then track hot spots and changes over time. This means you should not hesitate to call the police if there is a problem—this is how they can see where problems exist and where resources need to be directed.

Expected Outcomes

As a result of these new programs and additional funding—and the increased attention to the issue—Utterback anticipates seeing improvement in 18-24 months. This may seem like a long time but this problem did not happen overnight. 

An additional note of caution: As with other systemic problems, we cannot expect to reduce them down to zero. While these efforts can address 85-90% of the issue, there will always be a small percentage of people who refuse help. Additionally, there will unfortunately always be people who are newly homeless due to emergencies or health issues. Given that, homelessness is an issue that needs to be continually managed.

14 Business Loop 70 East
Columbia, MO 65203
573- 443-5667 (LOOP)
[email protected]

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