When temperatures drop this winter, Nashville will add another way of sheltering the homeless. Room In The Inn, which typically coordinates a network of temporary shelters, will start opening its own doors overnight, and there will be fewer rules about who can come inside.
By nightfall, those needing a place to sleep will still gather at Room In The Inn and then be driven out to host beds at churches and congregations.
But starting on Jan. 3, the Inn will also stay open, acting like a “student union,” says Executive Director Rachel Hester. People will be able to drop in, stay as long as they like and get help. They can find a fresh blanket, a meal or a referral to other services.
And the message will be that everyone is welcome — even couples, people with pets or those struggling with addiction.
“We used to think about the white alcoholic man, and that’s just not who we’re serving any more,” Hester said. “Our population has grown in the last two years, to where we’re now serving 17 percent women. Every night of the winter we have a family. We’re serving more veterans on the street … just as Nashville’s changing, we need to adapt to the population that we serve.”
In the past, shelter rules have deterred some from coming inside, so Hester’s goal is to eliminate those barriers.
The new overnight option is funded largely by a Metro grant — and city police will also be canvassing to let people know of the adjusted hours and rules at Room In The Inn.
Nashville Debates Emergency Cold Weather Plan
Meanwhile, a proposal to alter Metro’s emergency cold weather plan has been tabled for the moment.
The city’s emergency shelter — typically hosted at East Park — opens when the temperature dips to 25 degrees. A recent push by a member of the Metro Council would have changed the trigger temperature to 32 degrees, but homeless advocates say the new overnight flexibility at Room In The Inn could alleviate the pressure to make that change.
In addition, changing the temperature level could have meant 50 additional days of Metro shelter services each year, at a cost of $280,000, according to a rough estimate by Judith Tackett, director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.
She said some 20 community partners that help with cold weather services weren't comfortable with a sudden change to the plan — but have agreed to try to do more when the temperature hits freezing.
And she said a bigger challenge than temperature has been reducing barriers to get into the shelters, especially when it’s dangerously cold, which Room In The Inn is trying to address.
“Any overflow (shelters) have to have a very low barrier,” Tackett said. “We need to save lives.”