Cold weather means hard choices for the poor

The Salvation Army said Monday it is setting out extra cots at Harbor House.

The Salvation Army told KRCG 13 Monday it is setting up cots at its Harbor House shelter in case of overflow.

Regional coordinator Maj. Richard Trimmell said more people are likely to take advantage of shelters as the weather gets colder. He said the Columbia shelter can accommodate about 12-15 people on cots in addition to its bunks, though he added only about 3 or 4 people will need cots at any given time during the winter. In the event of a blizzard, he said the Salvation Army would also set up cots at its Ash Street office.

The problem facing some homeless is not all shelters cater to the same groups. Trimmell said Harbor House is geared toward families with children and so has very strict guidelines on who can stay there. For safety reasons, the shelter cannot accept people with drug or alcohol problems or serious criminal records. Other shelters in the Columbia area focus on groups such as domestic abuse survivors. Trimmell said Room at the Inn does accept people with drug problems but those services donâ??t start until Jan. 1.

â??We have to be more careful about who comes in here because we have children,â?? he said. â??But they can stay at Room at the Inn and eat at Loaves and Fishes. This way, I think that thereâ??s a better possibility that weâ??re covering the big picture.â??

Even if there were no rules governing who could and could not stay at certain shelters, Trimmell said there are not enough beds in the Columbia area to meet demand.

The Daniel Boone Regional Library has a directory of shelters and other emergency services on its website.

For people who have their own homes but live on limited income, the winter months mean higher heating bills. Trimmell said he would not be surprised if this monthâ??s reduction in Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits leads to greater demand for utility assistance because families need to use more money for food.

â??There hasnâ??t been enough time yet for them to find out how thatâ??s going to affect their budget, but if their food stamps do decrease, theyâ??re gonna have to spend more money on food,â?? he said.

Trimmell said several charities including the Salvation Army have provided utility assistance in the past, but lack of funding is keeping the Salvation Army from doing so this year.

Central Missouri Community Action provides utility assistance through the Missouri Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The program has two components, both of which are open to households with incomes up to 125 percent of the poverty line.

Energy Assistance is a one-time payment to families who meet certain guidelines. The program runs from November through March. The elderly and disabled people can start applying in October. Families do not have to face imminent utility shutoff to apply for it.

The Energy Crisis Intervention Program is designed for families whose utilities have been shut off or are about to be. It provides a series of payments up to $800 in the winter months and also runs from November through March, with the elderly and disabled able to apply in October. Families must show proof that their utilities are about to be shut off.