Emergency Shelters in Wilson County, Tennessee
December 1, 2017 - March 15, 2018


Wilson County continues to have a homeless problem, and local churches are planning once again to make a difference by opening our buildings this winter.
 

Wilson County churches are working together to serve as emergency shelters for 15 weeks this winter. In a program modeled after Nashville’s "Room in the Inn", each church will open their building and provide volunteers one night a week. College Hills will serve as a host site on Monday nights, and at least two other Churches of Christ plan to help.

 

Background

In 2013, there was no significant program to help the homeless in Wilson County, other than a small shelter for single mothers. Christian leaders who encountered a homeless person had few options, so they often drove people to rescue missions in Nashville or Murfreesboro. Early in 2013, volunteers and church leaders began meeting to pray and to assess the scope of homelessness in Wilson County. We found several camps in wooded areas - diapers at some sites meant homeless children. We resolved to work together to address the challenge, and we spent a year getting organized and learning from Room in the Inn. 

On December 1, 2013, , the first of eight churches opened their doors to homeless guests. God blessed this program with a safe, positive first year in 2013-2014, as we provided 444 beds. The second winter we doubled our capacity by adding seven more host sites and 1,043 beds were filled. In 2015-16, fourteen churches provided 1,317 beds and once again God blessed the ministry with safety and success.

 

Plans for this Winter

We are praying that with your help, we can do an even better job this winter. We are preparing to host up to 18 men and 12 women at 21 churches (3 per night). Other churches and community organizations are providing volunteers and resources for this county-wide effort.

A typical night's schedule:

5:00 PM    Guests picked up by church vehicles.

6:00 PM    Dinner is served at Cross Style Church.

6:30 PM    Church vehicles take men to host site, women to another host site.

  1. Host church volunteers read shelter guidelines.
  2. Evening activities - Some guests talk, play games, or watch TV.. Others go straight to bed.
  3. Guests can use showers or wash clothes (if available at site).
  4. Lights out at 10:00 PM.

6:00 AM    Rise & Shine

6:30 AM    Host church provide a simple breakfast.

7:00 AM    Church vehicles leave to take guests.

Volunteers clean shelter, wash sheets & towels for the next week.

 

Some needs as we look toward this winter:

  • Prayer for a safe winter.
  • Funds to purchase additional sleeping mats ($85 each).
  • Sheets, blankets, towels, and wash clothes.
  • Volunteers – overnight, as well as morning & evening food and transportation.
  • Funds for first aid kits and medical needs of shelter guests.

While most items will be donated by church members, there will be additional costs.

 

Blessings from hosting homeless shelters ...

In the first year, Compassionate Hands Shelters were a blessing to College Hills and to the community in several ways:

1. The church showed God’s priorities.

The Barna Group published Churchless in September 2014, and it describes hang-ups of unchurched Americans. One is that the church is of no value to society. These shelters were a practical, faith-filled response to a major community problem, and people noticed. Local politicians and law enforcement leaders were appreciative and supportive. Since we were feeling our way through a new venture, we did not seek publicity. But over the course of the winter, the shelters were featured in two televised reports and several newspaper articles.

2. Churches reached across denominational lines.

While each church maintained its doctrinal positions and had opportunity to discuss faith with shelter guests, there was a sweet spirit of cooperation. Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Nazarenes, Salvation Army, and Presbyterian leaders worked beside members of Churches of Christ, and everyone had a positive experience. People in the community made comments about how refreshing it was to see Jesus’ followers working together to address a significant community need.

3. Participants grew as disciples.

Few of the churches had any experience working with homeless people, so we were afraid. We were opening church buildings to sleep with strangers who had a lot of problems. Yet we were convinced that God had called us to serve – we had the resources, the training, and the willingness. So we stretched and followed God’s leading. And we were blessed with a rewarding experience.

4. Participants developed friendships, and guests connected with churches.

Workers built relationships with peers in their congregations and in other churches. To our pleasant surprise, we also built friendships with guests. We heard stories of homeless friends and we realized how close each of us lives to financial ruin. By the end of the winter, many guests had joined one of the churches, and several churches adopted guests, helping them find jobs, transportation, and even housing.