Columbia provides update on rapid shelter

Since November 1, Rapid Shelter Columbia has been in full operation. In addition to the overflow center to shelter people from colder weather, 50 individual pallet units were built to provide temporary housing for the chronically unsheltered. As of today, all of the 50 pallets designated for homeless individuals are occupied.

“To see Rapid Shelter reach 100 percent capacity reflects the urgent need that the city has fulfilled to address chronically unsheltered population,” said Dr. Aditi Bussells, At-Large City Councilwoman. “Seeing this success so quickly is a reminder that we have to be willing to try things differently and believe that change is possible.”

Rapid Shelter Columbia is the first transitional housing project of its kind to be operational in the Southeast. The program is designed to assist chronically unsheltered individuals with temporary shelter, case management and life-skill services. The program provides three meals per day and transportation to appointments for clients to receive services.

The wrap around case-management and life-building services are provided by specialized City of Columbia staff and on-site partners. These partners include PRISMA Access Health, Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council (LRADAC), Cooperative Health, Centre of Addiction of Mental Health (CAMH) mobile unit, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, Vibez Church Bible Study, CAN Community Health, Palmetto AIDS Life Support Services (PALSS), PRISMA PACE Program and Fast Forward.

“Since opening, our partner relationships have increased and we are working on strengthening existing relationships and being innovative on how we deliver services and resources,” said Kameisha Heppard, Director of Homeless Services. “We have been charged with thinking outside of the box in an attempt to keep our clients engaged.”

In fact, Rapid Shelter Columbia has one client who has been at the facility since Day 1, and has now been permanently housed by a community partner. Even though this individual is unable to gain income due to a disability, staff and community partners will continue to work with the client to maintain a healthy lifestyle and increase the chance of staying housed.

“Meeting these clients where they are and providing wrap around services in a caring environment create opportunities for success, as described with our first client to obtain permanent housing,” stated City Manager Teresa Wilson.

As of January 5, Rapid Shelter Columbia has received 145 referrals and has admitted 66 individuals. Out of the 50 individuals currently using the facility, 79 percent are male, 21 percent are female and 76 percent are ages 45 and above.

Rapid Shelter Columbia Overflow has also been in full operation since November 1, and provides shelter for individuals when temperatures drop below 40 degrees or 45 degrees with rain/storm conditions. In the last few months of 2022 (November-December), the Overflow was open 29 days, housed 2660 clients (avg. of 92 clients a night) and provided 5,320 meals to individuals at the shelter.

Individuals at the Overflow are provided two meals, hygiene kits, access to services on site and scheduled transportation to and from the shelter.

“So far this season, the Overflow’s highest client participation number was 140,” Heppard said. “On our coldest night on December 23rd, 2022 with the temperature being 13 degrees, our client participation number on that night was 128. Outreach partners and the Columbia Police Department have been diligently working hard to encourage the unsheltered to participate at the Overflow, as we have capacity to serve more of this population on cold nights.”

“I am very encouraged to see Rapid Shelter Columbia reach 100 percent occupancy,” said Chief William “Skip” Holbrook, Columbia Police Department. “This is a testament to the extraordinary work of our police officers and imbedded mental health clinicians that make up our ‘Pathways Teams.’ Collectively, they have contacted over 1500 homeless and chronically unsheltered to offer services and shelter. Our officers have provided over 325 transports to Rapid Shelter Columbia and overflow facilities. Most importantly, these outcomes, which include strict enforcement of local and state laws, occur through professional constitutional policing with empathy and compassion.”

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