As the weather gets colder, the homeless population in Hardin County needs a warm place to sleep at night and that’s becoming an increasingly difficult challenge to meet.
Room in the Inn is a program that uses host facilities to provide warmth on cold nights from November through the end of February. But host facilities are scarce and organizers have an unmet need.
“Our goal has always been to have two host churches each night,” said Colleen Bagley, Room in the Inn board chairwoman. “We are currently without a host church at all on Sunday nights.”
During the week, there is one host church every other night and on the first and third Friday of the month there’s just one church participating.
The issue has been complicated by the temporary and unexpected closing of HIS Shelter, a facility on U.S. 31W in the Longview area between Elizabethtown and Radcliff. It has been partnering with Room in the Inn to act as the host Sunday nights. The facility also had been accommodating Room in the Inn overflow on other evenings, which Bagley said ranges from four to 14.
“They have been graciously taking our folks when there are more in need of a bed than the churches can accommodate,” she said.
Total, there have been 25 to 30 guests seeking shelter each night.
Henry Hinton, whose wife, Bunni, is director of the HIS Shelter, said Saturday they hope to reopen as soon as Monday. After addressing an environmental issue, he said the shelter is awaiting recertification.
HIS, which stands for Homeless Intervention Services, relocated to 6869 N. Dixie Highway in November 2018, previously operated a smaller shelter on East Dixie Avenue in Elizabethtown.
The alternative of housing guests in hotel rooms is costly.
“The temperatures at night have been below freezing and we’ve had to provide emergency shelter in motel rooms with HIS Shelter being closed,” Bagley said.
While the priority still is to find a host churches to volunteer to serve as night shelters, monetary donations are being sought to cover the cost of the hotel rooms. Donations can be sent to Room in the Inn, Hardin County, P.O. Box 102, Elizabethtown.
“We are ever so grateful to the churches that have been so faithful to host or partner with us,” she said. “I think we would all agree that we are blessed by being a little inconvenienced and giving a little of our time.”
To make sure each night is fully covered, Bagley said she needs eight host churches.
There are no specific qualifications for a facility to become a host site for the program, she said.
“Willing hearts, a few volunteers, space for approximately four to 18 cots and access to a restroom are really the only qualifications,” Bagley said.
Showers, kitchens and laundry facilities are not required to participate and guests have been fed dinner before arriving to the host church, she said.
Churches are asked to provide breakfast, which can be as simple as cereal and doughnuts. They also provide a sack lunch for the guests to take with them. Sometimes these items are provided by partner volunteers who help the church host guests that night. This also is often the case for transportation and cleaning linens, she said.
“Most of our current host churches have a partner church or churches and they all work together to meet all the needs,” she said, adding that’s part of the beauty of the program. “Denominations and individual beliefs are put aside and everyone works together to help our neighbors, a basic truth of all denominations.”
But some churches still are hesitant to participate, Bagley said and with the numerous churches around the county, she’s not sure why. She guesses getting volunteers is one concern. Four volunteers are required per night — two men and two women.
“I have also been told that there are insurance issues,” she said.
She also thinks there’s a “fear factor” involved.
“Individuals who are homeless often get a bad reputation,” she said.
Some may have made poor decisions to get into their current situation and they usually admit that, she said. Some have mental illnesses and need a support system they find through programs such as Warm Blessings and Room in the Inn, she said.
“The folks we serve are not homeless people – first and foremost, they are people – people, just like all of us,” Bagley said.
Their homelessness does not define them, she said.
“I would never want to be defined by some of the choices I have made in my life or by a particular circumstance I got myself into,” Bagley said. “I feel strongly that our guests deserve the same respect we should have for everyone.”
The majority of guests served through the program are grateful for the help, willing to do whatever is asked of them and appreciate a safe, warm place to stay, she said.
“There are so many obstacles to overcome when you are homeless,” she said. “The majority of our guests do not have transportation or other things we take for granted so providing them a place to rest is one thing we are desperately trying to do for them.”
Churches available to act as a night shelter can call Bagley at 270-734-3120 or Jim Weise at 270-505-5806.