With temperatures bottoming out below zero, this January proved the coldest in more than a decade. But while most of us watched the mercury drop from the shelter of our homes, for Nashville’s homeless, things weren’t quite so comfortable.
That’s where Room in the Inn at Belmont comes in.
“We pick up six men every Wednesday and Friday night and bring them back to the Sports Science Center,” said Brett Wisse, who serves as the RITI Belmont congregation’s nightly director. “We make dinner, eat it with them, have conversation and then host them overnight.”
The goal, as RITI sees it, is to take a step-by-step approach to dealing with a larger problem that plagues the Nashville community.
It began in 1986 with four churches, picked up speed and, by 2010, had the grants to construct a million-dollar building in downtown Nashville where it now hosts approximately 1,400 people overnight from November to March each year.
Homeless participants receive dinner and breakfast, and are then sent on their way with a packed lunch. They are also entertained for the night.
“A movie is popped in, coffee is brewed, and the guys are free to continue in conversation or watch the movie,” said Elena Harmon, a regular volunteer at RITI.
But while food and shelter are important to the participants, perhaps the largest part of the experience, according to the volunteers, is the conversation.
“The interesting conversations are really those when the men just share their stories,” said Wisse.
The participants, who often spend their time in the warmer months working at local construction projects and carnivals, have moved all over the country, even sometimes having traveled the world with work and military.
“Many of the guys have lived amazing and fascinating lives,” Harmon said. She believes there’s a lot to be learned.
“I always welcome any advice that they have for us college students, who are in a quite formative time of our own lives.”
The Belmont congregation is capable only of accepting six homeless men due to limited resources, said Wisse. But in light of the recent cold snap, the downtown staff requested that individual institutions accept more if they were able.
“Overall 457 extra beds were added by congregations that week, meaning no one who sought shelter with RITI was turned away,” he said.
This marks a step up in RITI’s hospitality, and hopefully sets a precedent for future record lows.
“Each guest brings a unique piece of themselves to the table. To me, the table is everything. It symbolizes unity and understanding. No one is serving anyone at the table,” said Harmon.
For interested volunteers, more information is available at http://goo.gl/pemFWf.