Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Best Homeless Shelter In Nashville

Note:  I just re read this post and notice that I digress for an extended period from the subject.   If you don't want to read through all my ramblings, just know that Room In The Inn is by far the best homeless shelter in Nashville.   It's "sheltering" capacity is more limited than the rescue mission's, but what they do offer is superior in every way.

After I recently slammed the Nashville Rescue Mission for its poor performance at actually "rescuing" people from homelessness, someone asked me which homeless shelter in Nashville I thought was best.

Now before I get to my answer, there are a few things I want to discuss that are related to the subject.

First and foremost, there is an unwritten rule among homeless service providers that they will never criticize each other for the work they do. (Among members of the Association of Union Gospel Missions it actually is a written rule).  This rule is based mostly on the assumption that every person in the homeless services industry is doing the best they can, and that the only thing holding them back from doing a better job is a lack of resources, or other issues beyond their control.  But this assumption is bogus.

When taking on the responsibility of running a homeless shelter, or other service organization for the homeless, you need more than just good intentions and a willingness to work.   Homeless people are in a very fragile and precarious situation, one that could easily turn for the worse, so homeless service providers MUST  make certain that what they do for, and to, the homeless will actually help and not hurt them. This is one of the biggest problems with shelters run by fundamentalist Christians organizations.  They believe they can do no wrong. Because they do their work "in the name of God/Jesus," they believe any thing they do, will, by default, work out to the glory of God.  For these people, admitting they make mistakes with homeless people would be the same as admitting their God makes mistakes. And lord knows they'll never do that.  It's their special way of avoiding criticism.  Regardless of something going well, or not going well, they declare it "God's will."   For this, they cause many homeless people to suffer needlessly.

Secondly, people should take into consideration that I have a condition known as Asperger's Syndrome.   Asperger's Syndrome doesn't make me any less a person, but it does make me different.  And this difference is difficult for most people to understand and to come to good terms with.   Hopefully, as time moves forward, more people will come to know and understand Asperger's for what it is, and will begin to treat people with Asperger's with more acceptance.

One of the more common and yet more exasperating features of Asperger's is an apparent lack of tact in delicate situations.   People with Asperger's are much more likely to speak their minds, oblivious to any fall out for their comments, until someone complains.   There really is no more malevolence within the hearts of people with Aperger's than with other people, although it may appear so.

 To people with Asperger's, respect is synonymous with honestly.   To be honest with people, even brutally so, is the highest form of sincerity.  But for most people, people without Asperger's, respect is more synonymous with defending and protecting the feelings of others.   People with Aperger's do not perceive their honesty as being hurtful to others, at least not until after someone responds defensively to something they've said.  But by then it's too late, and the offense cannot be taken back.   Only with increased awareness of this issue and much practice, can a person with Asperger's learn to address sensitive issues more tactfully.   Still, being "tactful" does frustrate and often aggravate people with Aperger's because it feels wrong to be less than completely honest.  The idea of purposely omitting details, or telling white lies for the sake of others, does not usually occur to people with Asperger's.

More and more my own interactions with people are improving, (I've been working on it), so what little communication I engage in with people is becoming more productive. Still, being tactful requires a lot of energy on my part, and sometimes, depending on the person and situation, I may feel that a person is just not worth the extra effort, and the affect of my Asperger's hits them full force.

Society looks down on the "butt kisser." Even Shakespeare wrote about "flatterers" being despicable.  Yet society in general still expects people to play the game of saying the "nice" thing, and calling it the truth, even when deep down they know it's not.

I am also a HUGE proponent of the idea that, "the truth will set you free."  To me, truth is the most valuable gift a person can receive.  Truth is also the key to solving society's biggest problems.  There would be no science without it.  We'd still be thinking the world was flat, if we didn't value truth so highly.   When I die, I don't want people bull shitting each other about me.  It seems every one goes around saying nothing but positive things about the recently deceased.   Please don't insult my memory in that way.  I don't need anyone lying on my account. Remember me in death exactly as you experienced me in life.   I did some good things and some not so good things.  I do not pretend to be anything else other than human.

To me, the biggest problem with homeless shelters, and homeless people in general is that the truth of things is most often avoided.  So, when I talk about homeless conditions, homeless service providers, homeless people, I make a point of being honest to the fullest extent possible.  Lying about homelessness will only hamper efforts to end homelessness.

With all the build up here, I'd imagine you readers would be expecting a huge statement about conditions at Nashville's shelters.  But I'm gonna try to make this short and concise.

Although they are just across the street from each other, the two major shelters for homeless people in Nashville couldn't be more different.  On one side of the street is the Nashville Rescue Mission, on the other side is Room In The Inn.   Although they offer many of the same services, it's their different approaches to these services that sets them apart.    I have ruminated over this difference for years, and have described it in different ways.  But just this morning it hit me, the most exact description of the difference between the two that I've come up with yet.

The Nashville Rescue Mission operates on an Old Testament paradigm, and Room In the Inn operates on a New Testament paradigm.   Whereas the rescue mission sees homelessness as a sin, and those who commit this sin need to be punished, Room In The Inn focuses not on any supposed "sin" of homelessness but instead responds to all homeless people with forgiveness and Grace.   I believe that is why most homeless people respond more favorably to Room In The Inn than the mission, and why Room In The Inn is more successful in helping people overcome homelessness.   Yes, there are some few homeless people who will defend the practices of the Nashville Rescue Mission.  But as the saying goes, there's no accounting for taste.

(A side note: The Salvation Army in Nashville doesn't come into consideration because they really aren't focused on helping the homeless as much as they used to be.  It's been a very long time since I stayed at their shelter, which at the time was located a block away from the old rescue mission.  It was there at that Sally where I had my first close encounter with a cockroach.  It walked across my face as I slept.  I could feel it, and it woke me up.  Now, the Salvation Army is working to prevent poor people from becoming homeless.   Looking at their website, they don't even address homelessness, not even alcoholism, something which one would think synonymous with the organization.  Nowadays they focus their efforts on helping disfunctional families, and teaching life skills, and running a food pantry.  Their work is important, but it's not so much about   homeless people anymore.)