There’s No Room in the Inn for Many Homeless People

For the next six months, there’s no “room in the inn” in Memphis and many other cities across the country where churches have come together to provide emergency shelter in their church buildings. Why are there no “rooms”?

Regardless of whether these programs are called “Room in the Inn” as they are in Tennessee, it’s definitely not because the churches’ volunteers and those who coordinate the programs don’t care about homeless people. Many of us are, no doubt, especially close to some of them and I, for one, don’t want to lose touch with those I’ve been trying to connect to the mental health system. Closing for the spring and summer months is more likely due to the amount of time volunteers devote to the program and fatigue, especially for those who do the physical work. That includes setting up and putting away cots and mattresses, laundering sheets, pillowcases and blankets, preparing and serving food, and cleaning up afterward. Administering the program, including coordinating and scheduling the churches and transportation, screening the potential guests, and resolving issues is no small feat either.


But the next six months will be tough on those who have relied on the program’s shelter. It will be especially hard for those with major disabling conditions who find it especially difficult (or impossible), to sleep in overcrowded emergency shelters or on the streets. But there’s hope for the future. In Nashville, Room in the Inn, established in December 1986 with four congregations, has now grown to more than 190 congregations in middle Tennessee. In 2010, they opened a 45,000 sq. ft. building and began offering emergency services and permanent supportive housing. In Memphis, the Room in the Inn program is working to expand its network of 25 churches. It has also leased the former Carpenters Union Building and is developing a day program in what is now known as The Carpenter’s House. It may soon  serve as a hospitable daytime site where homeless people who have lost trust in the underfunded, overloaded “system” can gather. And it’s my hope that it will be a place where we can link them to other caring professionals and volunteers in the “system” for the services, treatment, and housing they so desperately need. 

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