COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A South Side homeless shelter that has served the Columbus community since 1983 was dealt an $18,000 blow, its staff members claim.
In late April, four months after the Open Shelter relocated to a building in the 1000 block of Parsons Avenue, Executive Director Sheli Mathias said a contractor tasked with installing kitchen appliances vanished into thin air after pocketing a $17,820 deposit without doing the work.
Nearly eight months later, the privately funded haven that welcomes 120-150 homeless and marginally housed people each day still lacks an oven range hood and a fire suppression system, Mathias said.
“It’s been really trying since we’ve moved to this new location,” she said. “We’re seeing more guests – significantly more than we saw at our last location. The fact that we don’t have a kitchen has made feeding hungry people really difficult.”
The Open Shelter moved from East Mound Street in Downtown to a “wonderful,” 100,000-square-foot building on Parsons Avenue in January to provide more space for its guests. Mathias said the Open Shelter “is needed more than anybody realized” at its current South Side location.
The building’s kitchen needed some upgrades, so the Open Shelter contracted with a Columbus-based industrial hood sales and installation company whose business is registered to an address in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood.
According to a copy of the contract, the Open Shelter agreed to pay $23,800 for the materials and labor required to assemble one grease hood that is 8 feet long, 5 feet wide and 2 feet high, along with other items like a fire suppression system, exhaust fan and grease duct.
A contractor arrived at the Open Shelter on April 26 to pick up a deposit check of $17,820, but to Mathias’ dismay, she said no one returned to perform the work and the shelter has not been able to make contact with the contractor.
“We have had to prepare food at our homes for meals and fortunately have had some groups prepare meals as well,” Mathias said. “This money has been stolen, not only from us but from the men, women and children we assist on a daily basis.”
NBC4 is not disclosing the identity of the contractor or of the company because neither has been charged with a crime. Requests for comment have not been returned.
Founded by the late Methodist minister Kent Beittel, the Open Shelter became Columbus’ first overnight shelter in 1983, Mathias said. The shelter provides a slew of services: hot meals on weekdays, sack lunches, clothing, camping supplies, hygiene, bus passes and forms of identification.
The Parsons Avenue location is a one-stop shop for those in need, housing other community service agencies like Mount Carmel Street Medicine, Mid-Ohio Food Collective and Southeast Healthcare’s Rapid Response Emergency Addiction and Crisis Team (RREACT) to assist visitors.
The shelter, which welcomes the housed and unhoused alike, has served nearly 2,500 Columbus residents in 2022 alone, and that number continues to climb, Mathias said.
“I think the state of the economy, more people need help,” Mathias said. “And housing in Columbus is so difficult – so difficult to get housed, find affordable housing, and I think just a lot of people, perhaps for the first time in their life, need help.”
The loss of nearly $18,000 – especially as frigid weather begins to creep into central Ohio – has put the shelter’s programs and services in jeopardy, Mathias said.
She filed a report with Columbus police on Dec. 14 and only hopes the money is returned and the kitchen appliances are built so the shelter can continue its mission: “Staying Behind With Those Left Behind.”
“This community of people is incredible,” Mathias said. “They’re appreciative and they’re respectful and are just like me – the only difference is they don’t have a support system in place, and I feel really lucky and blessed to be able to be that for them.”