|Nancy Anderson prepares to serve homemade yeast rolls to the guests of the Room In The Inn program at the Cathedral of the Incarnation. The Cathedral, which normally hosts Room In The Inn guests on Tuesday nights, has been hosting guests every night for more than a week because overnight temperatures have dipped dangerously low. Anderson was volunteering with her daughter Leigh Sutherland and her sister Therese Fleetwood. Photo by Andy Telli
As overnight temperatures have dropped to dangerously cold levels during February, the Room In The Inn program and the congregations it partners with, including many Catholic parishes, have ramped up efforts to provide a warm, safe place for the homeless to stay.
“What we’ve done for really almost every night for the last two weeks is call on our congregations to open up additional beds,” said Jeff Moles, community development coordinator for Room In The Inn. “We’ve had a pretty good response from that. Over the two-week period, we added over 850 beds over what we would normally offer.”
As part of the Room In The Inn program, churches and congregations throughout Nashville host the homeless overnight during the winter months, providing a warm, safe place to sleep, dinner and breakfast, and transportation from and to the Room In The Inn campus on Eighth Avenue South near downtown.
On a typical night, congregations have about 315 beds available, Moles said. “On these nights with extremely cold weather the average has gone up to 468 beds.”
The Cathedral of the Incarnation is one of the congregations that has expanded its efforts to house the homeless during the cold spell. The Cathedral’s Room In The Inn ministry normally hosts homeless guests on Tuesday nights. But during the cold stretch, it has hosted guests every night temperatures are forecast to drop below 25 degrees, said Jim Coode, the ministry’s coordinator at the Cathedral.
“We’ve done it every night for the last week,” Coode said. “These last two weeks have been a killer.”
The increased activity has meant that the stock of clothing items donated for the homeless guests has been depleted, Coode said. And there have been some nights when they’ve had to make do with fewer volunteers to help, he added.
On its regular night, the Cathedral hosts 30 guests, Coode said. But when the temperatures fall and the need rises, the Cathedral can accommodate an additional 10 guests, he added.
The Room In The Inn campus also has been hosting more guests overnight, Moles said. When the temperatures drop below 27 degrees, the campus will house 30 people, and when the temperatures go below 19, it houses 60 people, he explained.
They also are welcoming more homeless during the day, giving them a chance to get out of the cold, snow and ice that have hit Nashville in February, Moles said.
“We’ve been providing extra lunches during the day to keep people inside,” and staying open extra hours during the day, Moles said.
“We’ve been seeing between 450-500 people in our building” during the day, Moles said, and serving lunch to more than 300 people a day, “which is a very high number.”
“There’s quite a cost but we think it’s really important to respond to the cold weather,” Moles said.
Room In The Inn and other agencies that serve the homeless learned some lessons from a similar cold snap last winter, Moles said.
“Over the summer we worked in partnership with other agencies to develop a cold weather response plan that has been implemented this year,” Moles said.
By reviewing the data from last winter, Moles said, they were able to determine that when temperatures dip below 27 degrees there will be an expected level of increased demand for beds and if it drops below 19, the demand rises to another level.
The call for the additional beds were based on that data and was a part of the city-wide coordinated response, Moles said. Agencies also are doing a better job communicating with each other about what space they have available, he said. “It’s been much more effective.”
Room In The Inn and other agencies encourage the homeless to seek a warm, safe shelter rather than trying to tough out the cold, Moles said. “Nobody can withstand the cold we’ve had,” which has fallen into the single digits on some nights, he added.
The Room In The Inn program continues through March, and donations are welcome, Moles said.
The agency always needs winter clothing such as hats, scarves and hand warmers, as well as hot chocolate and petroleum jelly, which is an effective insulator when spread on the hands and face, Moles said.
People can also make monetary donations to Room In The Inn through its website at www.roomintheinn.org.