Love Columbia’s Extra Mile program provides housing for homeless families

A Life That Changed is how Shannon Anderson describes the impact of Love Columbia’s Extra Mile program.

The non-profit organization was previously Love Inc.

“I moved to Columbia about a year and a half ago,” Anderson said. “The day before my new job, my accommodation failed.

She was moving from Kansas. She and her five children lived in a hotel, which used up all of her salary, she said.

Someone told her about the Extra Mile program through Love Columbia, but at first she had trouble reaching someone on the phone.

“I was losing hope,” she said. “I was really struggling to make ends meet. I had no other options. No one could help me.”

She contacted by email Kelli Van Doren, coordinator of the Extra Mile program.

“In 24 hours my life changed,” Anderson said.

She was placed in the program and her family moved into one of the seven halfway houses that Love Columbia uses for the program.

They matched her with a volunteer trainer from the community who helped Anderson with his financial situation.

“They taught me the tools I need for my life,” Anderson said. “They are not in the short term solutions. They are there for the long term.”

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The houses are rent free and without utilities for four to six months. Because Anderson was having credit problems buying a home, she now pays rent on her Extra Mile home.

She can call or text Van Doren if anything comes up, she said.

“She literally lent me her personal car,” Anderson said. “Kelli is always available for anything.”

Love Columbia donated a car, Anderson said.

“Now I have a home and a vehicle, free and without payment,” Anderson said. “I am able to save money and buy things for my children. I don’t live paycheck after paycheck.”

Love Columbia doesn’t just help you now and disappear, she said.

The Extra Mile program started in 2015 with a halfway house, said Jane Williams, director of Love Columbia. In March, he obtained his seventh house.

“I think we’ve helped 36 families,” Williams said.

Almost all families have children, and many are single-parent families, she said. All have been homeless or in precarious housing.

“Their coach is the one who sits down with them every week and works within their budget,” said Williams. “Some people are unbanked. Some need to increase their credit rating.”

Most can’t pay rent at market rates, she said.

“The goal is to move them into permanent housing,” Williams said. “Sometimes people pay off their cars or get a better job.”

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Love Columbia partners with local churches on homes, churches paying for utilities, and beautifying homes between occupants.

There is a housing crisis, Williams said.

“In all my years of doing this, I have never seen anything like what is happening now,” she said.

A Love Columbia newsletter cites Boone County court records of 499 evictions between Jan. 1 and Aug. 9, despite a moratorium on evictions.

Sometimes landlords don’t rent to people with crimes on their criminal records, Williams said.

Van Doren said it was his job to pair people with members of the community to serve as coaches.

“They track spending,” Van Doren said of the coaches. “Their coach helps them stay responsible. In a store, when they go to buy something, they may think, “I better check with my trainer.” One little thing makes all the difference. ‘”

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Halfway houses help with the effort, Van Doren said, because while a family lives there, they save money.

The poor find it difficult to find housing, she said. They may owe a previous owner money or have overdue utility bills. Getting a legal car is sometimes a financial burden. Some people need an owner to give them a second chance.

“It’s just a constant struggle to have enough money,” she said.

But with coaching and budgeting, Van Doren said people save money.

“A lot of people are starting to save,” she said. “They are opening a savings account.”

The program hopes to increase its number of halfway houses, said Van Doren and Williams.

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