Colder weather is approaching and soon Room in the Inn will begin to take in guests to shelter from cold winter nights.
But, with COVID-19, the program has changed this year.
This summer, the Room in the Inn leadership team met and knew the option of churches hosting homeless guests probably wouldn’t work because of the virus, leadership team member and Grace Heartland Church associate pastor Daryl Pepper said.
Over the past five years of the program, churches have served as shelter locations each night during the winter months of December though February, he said.
“So, we began to pray about a solution,” Pepper said. “Thankfully, Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory and Councilman Marty Fulkerson really took an interest in our need for a place.”
The solution came from the relocation of Elizabethtown Fire Department Station No. 2 to a new facility. City officials suggested using the vacated firehouse on East Dixie near Warm Blessings for this winter’s location.
“So, Room in the Inn Firehouse became a reality,” Pepper said.
This has allowed them to combine seven hosting locations into one facility.
“Now, we will host every night at the same location – Room in the Inn Firehouse,” he said. “It is just two doors down from Warm Blessings Soup Kitchen where our guests will eat dinner and then register to stay at Room in the Inn.”
Pepper said the partnership with the city is amazing.
“Room in the Inn has quietly taken care of some of our most vulnerable citizens during the harsh winter months for several years,” Gregory said. “Just like with everything else in 2020, COVID-19 has turned normal operations and plans for Room in the Inn upside down.”
But, he said, timing is right to help.
“We were fortunate to be able to use the recently vacated old Elizabethtown Fire Station 2 building to meet Room in the Inn’s needs for this winter,” Gregory said adding it’s the area churches and volunteers that make the inn possible for people who need a hand up.
“We are proud to be partners this year to bridge a gap at that location until things get back to normal,” he said.
Pepper said the City of Elizabethtown is playing a significant role in leasing the firehouse location to Room in the Inn this season free of charge.
“Far beyond providing a facility, the mayor’s office and city council really demonstrate a heart to help our homeless citizens,” he said. “Mayor Gregory and others never asked if the city should be involved but how helpful they could be.”
Even with this new location, volunteers still are needed.
“Anyone who is willing to host, that is to stay overnight from 5 p.m. in the evening until 8 a.m. the next morning, is welcome to sign up at roomintheinnetown.com,” Pepper said.
The facility, including guests and volunteers, will practice social distancing, wear masks, sanitize regularly and follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines. Both hosts and guests also will have their temperature checked and answer health questions before staying.
According to the guest and host expectation forms, cots will be placed eight feet apart and will be sanitized each morning. Space is allowed for 10 male and eight female guest per evening with additional space for one family with children.
The biggest need right now is for a church to serve as a host at the facility Sunday evenings, Pepper said.
The main financial need this year is to get supplies to maintain a healthy facility, contract laundry services, provide hotel rooms for those who have been exposed to COVID and food expenses for breakfasts, he said.
Donations may be made at roomintheinnetown.com. Tax-deductible gifts also can be sent to RITI Elizabethtown at P.O. Box 102, Elizabethtown.
“Room in the Inn will focus on serving the needs of Hardin County residents first,” Pepper said. “Those who are from other areas of our state or traveling through will be permitted to stay only an evening or two because we simply do not have the space or resources to house everyone.”
Pepper said COVID-19 has been concerning to all in the community.
“But, what if you had these concerns and no place to live?” he asked. “We must be aware that our homeless neighbors live under bridges near downtown and the interstate, around Buffalo Lake, in their vehicles, in the wooded public areas and other places.”
In the church, Pepper said, loving Jesus compels church-goers to share Christ’s love in practical ways.
“That means feeding the poor and providing shelter,” he said. “Sharing the love of Christ means more than that, but certainly not less.”
For information, to volunteer or support the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org, go to the Room in the Inn website or find Room In The Inn Hardin County on Facebook.