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      "Shelter of last resort" welcomes at-risk guests

      The â??Room at the Innâ?? shelter's goals is to prevent people from freezing to death on the streets of Columbia.

      Recent cold temperatures have forced hundreds of homeless people into shelters across mid-Missouri.

      While the Salvation Army??s shelters in Columbia and Jefferson City only accept certain individuals and families, a temporary shelter in Columbia is taking in homeless people with alcohol and drug problems.

      The Interfaith Room at the Inn Winter Shelter opened for the first time this winter on Tuesday night.

      So far, shelter administrators said their at-risk guests enter with a clean slate and have not caused any problems.

      The primary goal of the ??Room at the Inn?? shelter is preventing people from freezing to death on the streets of Columbia. Most of the homeless people who stay there are not welcomed at other shelters because they have a past history of drug or alcohol problems. It's a shelter of last resort.

      Room at the Inn organizer Meg Hegemann said, ??A lot of the shelters are only limited to veterans or only families or whatever the case might be. This shelter is open to people regardless, so long as they are not belligerent while they are here and they can maintain a safe environment.??

      Mill Creek Elementary School teacher Judy Privitt??s fifth grade class gave up their holiday party this year to help those at the Room at the Inn.

      ??All of the kids and parents brought in donations. We wrapped those up and I brought them over this afternoon,?? Privitt said.

      Salvation Army Major Richard Trimmell said the Room at the Inn Winter Shelter doesn??t help with overcrowding at Columbia??s Harbor House. Trimmell said it does help people who can??t stay at Harbor House.

      Trimmell said, ??We have to be very careful as to who is there because we do have children and families there. It??s a benefit to the community in that it is another resource and another housing situation for folks that find themselves in the cold.??

      The Columbia City Council recently approved $10,000 to pay overtime to police officers that provide security at the Room at the Inn Winter Shelter.

      The shelter has about 30 cots available between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. Organizers plan to keep the temporary shelter open through February or early March at the Wilkes Boulevard United Methodist Church.

      Area shelter administrators said they need more volunteers this time of year, as well as boots, blankets and personal care items for their guests.