Room in the Inn Memphis started in 2010 when the members of Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church in East Memphis learned more about homelessness and the lack of free shelter in the city while they examined possible ministry opportunities. Based on a Room in the Inn model in Nashville, the congregation decided to welcome a small number of individuals experiencing homelessness into the church to spend the night. That one evening grew into a service offered every Tuesday evening in the winter, from November to March.
“At the end of the third season we had so many volunteers from other congregations, people doing dinner, helping with hospitality, those who just wanted to be there to visit with guests and help out with what’s going on, we realized the congregations those people are part of could also do this and we could influence even more people who would otherwise sleep on the streets,” said Lisa Anderson, director of the organization. “So I began inviting congregations to join us.” The organization formed as a 501c3, taking the burden off the church.
Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church has hosted Room in the Inn on Tuesday nights since the beginning. But the church also opens its building to other congregations who want to provide the service but either don’t have the space or are just getting started. In fact, having a physical building isn’t a prerequisite to serve as part of Room in the Inn. “I don’t count facilities, I count congregations,” Anderson said. “We have 52 congregations, including a couple of nonprofits that host for us.” There are 14 denominations and a Jewish synagogue that host. Congregations are spread throughout the community, from Germantown, East Memphis and Bartlett, to Millington, Midtown and Downtown.
Today, the winter season has grown beyond that initial Tuesday evening to now seven nights a week. And beginning last year, Room in the Inn started a women’s summer shelter. Congregations that participate make a commitment to provide transportation from the organization’s central location on Second Street in Downtown. The congregation also provides dinner and breakfast, a place to wash up and to sleep, and transportation back Downtown. Room in the Inn also provides a day center it hopes to eventually expand to full time at least five days a week.
Because the number of congregations who participate varies nightly, how many individuals it assists also changes. Women and children are prioritized. The number of churches ranges from three to six a night. That means capacity for as few as 20 a night to as many as 80. No more than 12 to 15 individuals are taken to a church each night for safety and hospitality purposes. The greatest need for Room in the Inn is to increase the number of congregations. “The more we have the more people who can receive shelter,” Anderson said. Any congregation interested in learning more can find guidance on the website, along with a handbook link. Room in the Inn provides coordinator training; each congregation must have two. Then each congregation has an army of volunteers. For more information about volunteering or donation opportunities, visit roomintheinn-memphis.org.
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