(written for the February issue of The Contributor)
Room In The Inn is a winter shelter program for the Homeless in Nashville. The program is five months in duration, from November 1st to March 31st, covering most of the cold weather here.
In less than two months the program will be over for the season. Long gone are the fun filled and exciting days building up to its launch. The fund raisers and the clothing drives and the supply collections are over. So are all the pep-rallies and prayer circles and organizational meetings. So too are the holidays that coincide with the beginning of the Room In The Inn season. The excitement, the parties are all over, all that is left now is the work. And the work is becoming monotonous, and tiresome, and perhaps feeling less than rewarding. Dealing with some of the homeless who seem less than grateful has left some volunteers feeling jaded. Some volunteers are dropping out, and as the end of the season approaches some whole churches will drop out early, leaving more work for those who remain.
The homeless are feeling it too. The benefits of getting off the streets and into a nice peaceful environment are starting to pale in comparison to all the drudgery of submitting to the process necessary for participating in the system. More is demanded of the homeless staying in Room In The Inn than staying at the Rescue Mission, or just staying outside for the night. The church volunteers are less enthusiastic, less willing to engage the homeless. Supplies commonly available at the beginning of the program, like soap and toothpaste, socks and shirts, etc., are more difficult to find. The lack of sleep that is part and parcel of this kind of shelter system makes the homeless more tired, and perhaps a bit depressed.
Admittedly, the situation is not this bad for every church and organization working Room In The Inn. But the burn out happens to everyone to a certain extent. So, now is the time to recognize, and do something about it. It’s time to re-energize, time to have new and motivating pep-rallies and prayer circles, time to recruit new volunteers to help finish out the season. It’s time to restock the food pantry and clothing room and other necessities. Homeless people still need to take showers and brush their teeth and dress in clean and appropriate clothing. More than ever, as the end of Room In The Inn approaches, the homeless need to see and connect with caring and supportive people, and prepare mentally and otherwise for the change. Additionally everyone is getting cabin fever, even the homeless. It is still the middle of winter. It’s time to break the monotony, shake things up a bit, and get recharged for the remaining 6 to 8 weeks of Room In The Inn.
I was asked about something I wrote in the previous article about having a “sleep-in” church. Most of the churches return the homeless to the campus of Room In The Inn fairly early in the morning. This means that the homeless have to be awakened even earlier, so to eat breakfast, clean up, gear up, and take the ride back into town. Over an extended period, this can bring on problems of sleep deprivation. So, it would really benefit the homeless, allowing them more rest than they usually get, if they were allowed to sleep-in occasionally. The question was about the homeless needing to draw tickets in the morning for their next nights stay.
Many if not most participants in Room In the Inn will want to get back to the campus early so to draw their next ticket, but that is not really necessary. Participants are allowed to draw tickets in the morning and in the afternoon. Many prefer to get their tickets in the morning, but it is not mandatory. There are churches that do certain things with their Room In The Inn program that outside the normal function. Some will want all their homeless guests to attend a church service, or they will want to take all their guests out to dinner at a local restaurant. All that is necessary for this to happen if for the church to notify the administration of Room In The Inn prior to the event so that they can assign the people who would be willing to participate in whatever your church is offering. And I am certain that when the call is made for those interested in going to a church that will allow them to sleep in a couple hours, they will have no problem finding takers.