Room In The Inn

Room In The Inn is, among several things, a winter shelter for the homeless in Nashville, Tn.   It is an amazing effort by a great many people to provide a warm, safe, and hospitable place for the homeless to spend the night.  Over 150 churches and other organizations in the greater Nashville area participate in this program.   One night a week, each church will go to the Room In The Inn facilities, pick up a dozen or so homeless people in their church van, and carry them out to respective churches.   At the churches the homeless are given a meal, a mattress or cot to sleep on, breakfast the next morning, then the church returns the homeless back to the Room In The Inn facilities.   On average, this program gives shelter to 240 homeless every night during the coldest months of the year.

There are many benefits for the homeless who take advantage of this program.  Perhaps the best thing for the homeless is that, being out at some neighborhood church, they are removed from the homeless environment for a good portion of the day.  For one, it gets these people off the streets and into a pleasant building where kind people are their to help them in anyway they can.   It also give the homeless an opportunity to stay somewhere other than the rescue mission which is it’s own unpleasant experience.  The rescue mission crams hundreds of homeless people together, many of them addicts or mentally ill, or both.  For an hour some preacher at the mission will then yell at the homeless, telling them what bad people they are, sinners bound for hell, before sending them on to bed in overcrowded dorm rooms.   The Nashville Rescue Mission is a very stressful place for a homeless person to spend 1/2 of every day.

This is not to say that Room In The Inn doesn’t have a couple problems of it’s own, but over all, it’s a much better experience for the homeless.   Homeless people are able to get better rest, sleeping at the churches, are able to reduce their stress level being that they are off the streets, they have access to healthier food, will often have the opportunity to shower, do laundry and take care of other personal needs, while at these churches.

Still, there are some troublesome issues with a few of the churches that participate in the program.    Though the administration of Room In The Inn emphasizes the “hospitality” aspect of their work with the homeless, some churches, about a dozen of the 150, struggle with it.  Out at their churches, they treat the homeless more like jail prisoners than people who are currently down and out.  They operate with the assumption that the homeless are all criminals looking for any chance to steal the silverware.   The thing is, if you extend a hand to the homeless, and treat the homeless with respect, you will get respect in return from them.  
When you serve dinner to the homeless, don’t immediately retreat to the kitchen.  Join the homeless for dinner, break bread with them, extend a bit of community to them.

Sure, everyonce in a great while, some homeless person may do something he shouldn’t, but that’s no excuse for withholding your care from the rest of them.   If homeless people are going to return to mainstream life, they need to be treated with the dignity necessary for them to make that transition.   Continue to treat homeless people like second class citizens and they’ll stay second class citizens.   One of the simplest things a church can do for the homeless who stay with them, is to afford them the dignity of space.   Don’t cram their beds close to each other.  The homeless are not children, and they don’t look at their situation as if they’re at a slumber party.  When they are sleeping, give them as much privacy as you can provide.

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About Kevin Barbieux

I have been diagnosed as being chronically homeless. I write about my experiences and opinions of being homeless
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