For over 70 years, The Salvation Army has been a leader of Columbia’s unsheltered services community. For a very long time, our Harbor House was the only homeless shelter in Boone County, and still it is the largest and the only one that accepts families with children.

Fortunately, we have seen other shelters and temporary shelter services arise over the years — such as Welcome Home (a shelter for veterans); St. Francis House (for men); and Room at the Inn (so far, a temporary service that offers a place to stay during the cold months, leveraging churches throughout the community).

Together, the shelters and various other helpers here and there — churches, individuals, the city on super cold nights, etc. — struggle to meet as much of the need as possible, but at most we really are not even talking about 200 beds at any given time (occasionally a few more than that when we really stretch). There are far more people living unsheltered than all of us together can currently serve.

There are hundreds more people living unsheltered who just can’t be accommodated — at The Salvation Army, we unfortunately have to turn people away, often families, pretty much every week and often every day. We just do not have the space for all who need us.

Think about our population and it makes sense, doesn’t it? Columbia is at 125,000 residents or so, and growing all the time, and we should expect that the number of people living unsheltered is going to grow too — at least a little bit. Our ability to provide emergency shelter just has to grow too.

This is where we should all be thankful for Voluntary Action Center and their plan for the Opportunity Campus, a shelter that will hopefully offer 100 beds or more, as well as a space for various other services. That second part is actually one of the coolest parts: the Opportunity Campus will offer the first permanent home for Loaves and Fishes, Room at the Inn, and Turning Point.

Here is the thing, though. The Opportunity Campus is not a totally done deal. They have what amounts to a commitment of money from the state, city, and county — as well as their own money — and still they will have to raise a good bit more to get to $18 million to complete the project. Then there will be money needed for ongoing operations.

In the end, I feel like they will be able to do what they need to do, financially, but the bigger problem may be the conversations they will need to have with any number of people and groups. For any big project, there will always be plenty of people who argue against it, and those arguments need to be addressed, but then we need to move forward. For our part here at The Salvation Army, we agree that there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and some compromises will need to be made, but the Opportunity Campus needs to happen.

The Opportunity Campus needs to happen because Columbia is growing, and because the number of unsheltered people is growing, and we need more help to meet that need. I am proud to say that The Salvation Army does a lot, has for a long time, and will continue doing so for even longer, but we need help. 

We are thankful and excited to work with Love Columbia, Central Missouri Community Action, The Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri and so many others. Together, we do a lot. But there is so much more to do, and that is why the unsheltered services community, as a whole, supports the Opportunity Campus.

We need help to continue serving the unsheltered in our community. Please join us in supporting Voluntary Action Center and the Opportunity Campus.

Major Kevin Cedervall is a leader of The Salvation Army in Columbia. The Salvation Army provides a wide range of community services to address poverty and other issues, seeking to rebuild lives and create lasting change.

>>> ad: See the Best Amazon Deals of TODAY! <<<<
Originally Appeared Here