ROOM IN THE INN
Room in the Inn Shoals Homeless Shelter program is a winter homeless shelter that operates each year from November through March. We partner with a variety of local churches (called our Host Groups) from both Lauderdale and Colbert Counties to provide these services. To date, we have 46 local churches who partner with us, as well as more than 200 individual volunteers. Our organization is similar to the original Room in the Inn program out of Nashville, TN, which began in 1987. We are a non-profit, entirely privately funded organization, operated by community volunteers.
We operate every night from November to March, seven days a week. Our entire program is based on the concept of mutual respect. We serve anyone in need; men, women, families and we don't discriminate against anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation, or disability. We do require the guests to follow some simple rules, the first being sobriety. This is for the safety of everyone. While we primarily partner with local churches, there is no requirements for participation in church services in order to be in our program. We encourage each Host Group to serve our guests without expectation but are thankful when friendships are formed and lives are changed because of those friendships.
Each night at 4pm, our guests began at our Intake Center, which is staffed by rotating team of 7 volunteers. There, the guests go through an application and orientation process, where they agree to follow our 7 simple rules and a background check. We do this for the safety of not only the guests, but also our volunteers. At our Intake Center, guests are able to get hygiene supplies, basic medical assistance, life coaching skills, and also have access to our computer center for help with job applications and housing information.
At 6pm, our guests are picked up by whichever Host Group is scheduled for the night, taken back to the church they will stay, eat dinner, sleep, shower when available, and eat a light breakfast. They are then brought back downtown. Because we are entirely staffed by volunteers, our Intake Center is not open during the day.
One of the most special parts of our program is that anyone can serve. Our host churches are from every kind of denomination, working together in unity. Our volunteers range from kids that set-up cots and serve at the Host Church, to college students, retirees, teachers, nurses, veterans, families, people without a faith-based background, high school clubs, moms and bikers. You can be rich or poor, gay or straight, have different political beliefs...anyone can serve. It unites our community together in a magical way and we are thankful.
At Room in the Inn, we know that we cannot fix homelessness. It is a complicated and difficult issue with many layers. Unfortunately, due to the increasing mental health and opioid crisis, homelessness has dramatically increased in recent years. There is not one "silver bullet" to fix the problems and just finding employment and housing will not always fix things. Homelessness is often filled with hopeless and despair. We know we can't solve all of everyone's problems and we don't try. But what we CAN do is to offer our guests hope and show them kindness and dignity. We can become friends with people who have experienced pain and judgement and often feel discarded by society. Through those friendships, we can learn some of the barriers that homeless people face and advocate for change and additional resources. We can educate our neighbors and community to better understand why people have become homeless and how to best help them.
Since we began, Room in the Inn has helped over 42% of our guests find sustainable jobs and housing. Not everyone is able to easily overcome their struggles. Some of them have lived on the streets for years and battle demons many of us can't imagine. While they may return to the streets after our season ends, they always know that they are welcomed back year after year, without judgement and that they will find a warm cup of coffee, a smile, food and a place to sleep out of the cold. We can't fix it all, but together we can make sure that the INVISIBLE become VISIBLE and let everyone know that even in the midst of their pain and struggles, they know they are worthy of love and kindness.