The cold winter months can be especially hard for people experiencing homelessness, but the faith communities in Columbia have collaborated to provide an emergency winter shelter since 2008, hosted at various churches around the city – called Room at the Inn.
Jim Jantz and Rockie Alden, who both work with Room at the Inn, spoke about the health issues their guests most often face, as well as the importance of treating everyone with dignity.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Rockie Alden: Room at the Inn is a perfect example of our churches all coming together. We have between five and six churches that will host the actual shelter at their church, those that are large enough. In addition to that, we have probably 35 churches that participate, up to 40 a year.
One church could not do this; one church couldn't house it for the 3-4 months that we're open through the winter, because it would just be overwhelming. But if one church can take two weeks, and another church can take three weeks, and then other people can be one of the 500 volunteers that we need to operate every year...so it's the perfect collaboration.
Two things people need to think about: a lot of people in this situation aren't probably getting medical attention, and the second thing is they're exposed to the elements. I think we see probably just about every kind of health situation; I think you do see some mental illness in some of the individuals that are there.
Jim, what have you seen?
Jim Jantz: Also I've seen issues of disease related to aging, you know, there's heart disease and liver disease and when they live out on the streets for four, five, six years, you can see that they've aged more rapidly than the average person has. Someone will look older than they really are just because of the stress on the body.
I'm surprised we haven't seen more frostbite, but we had one person with frostbite last year. You know, his doctors had told him, do not go out into the cold, and so he was one person that we let in early.
I would say that in providing these resources, you're also providing dignity for the person. In Christianity we believe God is a God of love, but how does that love get manifested in the world? It gets manifested in the world the most with the lonely, the lost, the least...those that are really hurting.
During one of the elections we had a town meeting, for First Ward, and this guy got up to talk and his statement was, "If not here, then where?" If not here, then where. He had been told move on, you can't loiter here, you can't loiter there, you can't be in this park, and it's like..."I don't have a place to live, where can I go just to be?"
And being told that over and over, you develop this feeling of not being wanted. Of being a problem to the community. Everybody needs dignity, and when it's been taken away from you, you need it even more.
This story was reported and produced by Jonah McKeown.