COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Overnight warming centers funded by the city of Columbus are closing earlier than originally planned.
The news came as a surprise to staff and people who used the shelters.
“I was very disappointed, sad, thinking about the same thing everybody else is thinking: Where are we going to go? Where are we going to lay our head at? What other resources can we go to lay our head at?” said Rodney Gay.
Gay has been at Community Development For All People’s overnight winter warming center many nights this winter. Some nights, he helped run the center. On other nights, he used it as a place to stay warm and get rest as he saves up to find a place to live.
“These people are like a family, and this community is a family to me,” he said.
City council approved $590,000 to fund three warming centers through March 15. The money went to the Community Shelter Board and the warming centers were run by Community Development For All People and the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless.
On Monday, the 24/7 warming center near Ohio State University closed due to safety concerns. The Columbus Coalition for the Homeless said it had to close its warming center at the Broad Street United Methodist Church for “the same concerns.”
Community Development For All People has a notice posted saying the city unexpectedly terminated the funding for the warming centers and the non-profit does not support the decision. Mike Premo, the organization’s executive director, said the non-profit intended to operate the center through the middle of March. With funding ending early, Thursday was its last night open.
“Obviously very disappointed but also really concerned for the folks who had been staying here that we’ve gotten to know by name and built relationships of trust with and making sure they understood this wasn’t our decision,” Premo said. “We care about them and we want them to continue coming to see us during the day and staying connected to our resources.”
About 80 people experiencing homelessness have been staying at the non-profit’s center each night, Premo said. He said he’s worried because while Thursday was a warm day, winter is not over.
“We all knew it was going to happen, but not this soon,” said Gay.
A spokesperson with Mayor Andrew Ginther’s said in a statement the warming centers have “served their purpose.”
“They were never intended to be permanent shelters, but instead one part of many resources available to those in need,” the statement read. “The warming centers were also only intended to be open through the end of February. The City ended funding early when safety became a concern.”