Rainbow House looks for expansion location

Rainbow House hopes to make up for beds lost after losing a grant in 2012

Rainbow House, a children’s emergency shelter and regional child advocacy center, is working toward expanding the Homeless Youth Program, searching for a building that meets state-mandated safety requirements.

The Homeless Youth Program, serving ages 16 to 21, lost a federal grant in 2012, forcing Rainbow House to cut from providing 14 beds to six.

By finding a new building to house the program, Rainbow House hopes to increase to a goal of 16 beds, Homeless Youth Program Director Claire Slama said.

“With that bed size, we can probably serve at least 50 youth a year,” Slama said. “There's definitely a need in the community and we want to be able to provide for that need. There are several times during the year where we have to place people on waiting lists because we don't have a bed available for them.”

Often, youth placed on waiting lists are referred to shelters in nearby cities or placed in adult shelters if they are over 18. Rainbow House hopes the expansion will decrease the need for waiting lists.

In June, Rainbow House deliberated the use of a lot on Brandon Woods Street in south Columbia as the new site. The proposal was met with opposition from the surrounding neighborhood.

In a letter to the Columbia Board of Adjustment, Garry Lewis, president of the Southampton Villas Condominium Association, said the addition of a Rainbow House shelter would bring an increased number of police calls to the area.

Slama said police calls are necessary for a program like Rainbow House.

“We work with law enforcement on a regular basis because we're working with child abuse and neglect, so at any given time we could be communicating with law enforcement,” Slama said. “Our current program (is) not a nuisance, we haven't had complaints from neighbors or anything like that.”

Before presenting a proposal to the board, Rainbow House decided to move on from the Brandon Woods lot. Aside from the neighborhood opposition, Slama said the decision was heavily influenced by building requirements.

“We were going to have to make significant modifications to that building just in order for us to serve the youth and that would also change the structure of the program a little bit,” Slama said. “We decided that we weren't willing to change the structure of the program.”

The program will find a way to meet the building requirements, Slama said.

"Our goal at this point is to find a building that's going to be able to meet those fire and safety requirements and still provide the services and structure that we want for the youth,” Slama said. “We've been successful in helping them achieve their goals with the way the program is structured.”

In addition to the Homeless Youth Program, Rainbow House also serves children under 18 with the Children’s Emergency Center and the Child Advocacy Center.

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