Columbia City Council reviewed a report from city staff about an outreach plan in the event of extreme weather.
According to the report, council requested a report on recommendations for opening city facilities during extreme weather, like extreme cold.
Last year the city opened several warming stations, including Wabash Bus Station and the REDI building downtown, when the other shelters in Columbia became full. Those shelters were staffed by airport safety personnel.
In the report staff reviewed what several cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newark, do in the case of extreme weather.
In the report, staff recommends the city open a city building for shelter if there is a projected low of at or below 9 degrees Fahrenheit.
The shelter would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and would be staffed by city personnel.
The city would send out notification of the extreme weather alert via: media advisories, the city web site, social media, public safety agencies, hospitals, the Boone County Office of Emergency Management, Daniel Boone Regional Library, and public outreach teams.
John Trapp has a contract with the downtown business district to do outreach and is involved with the Columbia Homeless Outreach team and Functional Zero Task Force.
Trapp said last year when the shelters became full, and the city decided to open Wabash Bus Station for overflow, it was not possible to do outreach for some people experiencing homelessness.
“It wasn’t possible to do outreach to people who were camping in the woods to tell them Wabash was available,” he said. “So this, we hope, is a policy that will automatically go into effect when the temperature drops so that we don’t have to scramble to do outreach to tell people that there is shelter available.”
Trapp said if the shelter opened automatically at a certain temperature, the homeless population would have an easier time knowing what was available.
“Then we don’t have to go running to their camps off in the woods. Sometimes we don’t even know where they’re located because, you know, they like to keep that on the down low,” he said.
He said if the council adopts the plan it would mean those doing outreach would not have to hope they find people experiencing homelessness in time.
Trapp said he hopes by potentially having better communication it will prevent people from getting sick or even dying as a result of the cold.
“I have a few people I’ve been working with who lost a few toes last winter. And my hope is that that doesn’t happen this winter. Often, when people are homeless and they start getting frostbite, losing toes, that’s like the first step towards them dying the following winter,” Trapp said. “So I really hope that this helps keep those folks alive.”
Trapp said some people do not like to stay at Room at the Inn because they have to go through security measures, and they are somewhat private. He hopes by having a different place to go they will seek out shelter.
The city has not clarified what building it would use for the shelter. Trapp said he thinks the city is keeping its options open depending on when the shelter would be needed.