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.)

17 comments:

  1. I recently asked a young homeless man to work for me helping my family pack and move out of our old house. He was a very hard worker, refused tips or any kind of charity, and didn't have the appearance of an alcoholic or drug addict. However, my husband is unwilling to let him know where our new home is by having him work for us again because we have two beautiful teenage daughters. The man is unwilling to share anything about his past or why he wound up on the street, and we have no way of knowing if he could pose a danger to our family or not. Yet, he seems kind and sweet. It drives me crazy to think of him under a bridge as winter approaches, yet I doubt he would feel comfortable hanging out with the kinds of people you usually find in downtown shelters. He doesn't want help from a church because he doesn't believe, yet it seems obvious that he needs people in his life, whether he admits it or not. How can I safely help?

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    1. Stop fearing for your safety. Fear is the work of mongers and is nothing nore than a one word definition for "lack of love." This guy sounds a little like me. No drinking or drugs, hard working, and a decent human being. But if someone asked me how I became homeless I wouldn't want to go into it. It involves very painful memories. As much as I can bring myself to say is I was VERY mistreated by some people. He'd probably be overjoyed for floor space and help around the house.

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    2. Thank you for writing this and for the woman who responded. Im 36, i have 4 kids, 2 who still live with me, well did until 3 weeks ago. Im homeless now. Im not a bad person, I'd even volunteered at shelters before. Things happened beyond my control, i lost my job and now i have no home. My area shelters will get no praise and i don't feel comfortable in them either. I've never done drugs, not an alcoholic. I was a single mother living check to check, now without a check. I have a car that i will lose by the end of month. or shortly after payment is overdue, i had to seperate my kids and my 12 year old is a wreck over stressing and trying to be without me. I do have family but none of them have space and are overcrowded as is. I have been independent from a young age and so this hurts, its embarrassing. I don't think im too good for a shelter but wouldn't cut right in. I feel lost. I feel worthless.

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  2. You posted similar comments elsewhere which makes me suspicious of the legitimacy of your question. Still I'll give the same answer to each.

    Most "bad" people in the world have homes. Serial killers, rapists, child molesters, the over whelming majority of those people have homes, houses, apartments. You have just as much to fear of your next door neighbor as you do a homeless person. It is not a person's housing situation that differentiates a good person from a bad person.

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  3. There's plenty wrong with "shelters" alright, quite aside from other issues such as Aspergers.

    Which is why most homeless folks I've met avoid them, with the possible exception of taking refuge there during the worst weather.

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  4. I didn't know about the Salvation Army these days. :(

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  5. As a CEO if a Rescue Mission associated with AGRM, I can tell you there is no written (or otherwise) rule of not criticizing other Missions. I should know, I have criticized and challenged fellow Missions and other shelter operations on financial transparency, rules, and policy and procedure. It is difficult providing shelter in a communal environment -- with extremes of conditions and situation of each guest needing some accommodation, while providing safety to each guest, as well as protecting the liability of the organization.

    Shelters are not the end-all option . . . but they are the salvation (body, soul, and spirit) for many needing a space to consider the options before him or her. It is a necessary hand-out in order for us to offer a hand-up. It is the long-term life-changing residential programs we offer by which shelters are the entry points.

    As one who thinks most charity (of the church and the state) is actually, as Robert Lupton’s new book states, “Toxic”, we providers often struggle trying to provide “reciprocal and inter-dependent” services to people who, more than not, want a no-questions asked – no responsibility – hand-out to continue on their chosen life-style. We balance providing services for chronic homeless, as well as a safety net to keep newly homeless from becoming a statistic.

    Shelters – the good ones – must balance providing quality of life for the homeless person, while protecting the quality of life of the community at large. Our guests often don’t help us mitigate those negative issues that are created while providing that shelter from the streets.

    I invite you to consider the many factors which Rescue Missions – or any shelter – must deal with in the process of providing services. I fully and readily acknowledge that some issues are self-generated by shelters, and that we need to do a better job in presenting ourselves as viable options for persons as yourself. Especially, as government funding is decreasing and can’t sustain the level of services needed to provide shelter or housing, and our economy (and potential limits on charitable donations) is affecting private donations as well.

    I also invite you to follow a blog series I recently started, which challenges the church to reconsider hospitality as its missional responsibility. http://lbrmceo.blogspot.com/2011/10/reclaiming-missional-service-with-view.html

    Blessings.

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  6. I appreciate your comment, LBRM. Many years ago, when looking at the website for the association that the Nashville Rescue Mission operated under, I recall specifically reading as part of the rules of membership the "don't criticize" requirement. Things may have changed since then, and that's a change I would certainly welcome. At the time I read that website, I was not tech savy enough to screen save that bit of info. Cest la vie.

    I would counter just one thing in your above post, and that is the judgmental nature of assuming some homeless people want a "no responsibility" handout. Such a statement speaks volumes about the perspective that many christian organizations have to towards the homeless. It is a perspective that is bent by a dogmatic religious agenda which prevents people from seeing the homeless as they truly are. When people's actions are judged by such narrow parameters of "sin or not sin," you end up discounting a lot of variables that affect behavior.

    One must get past how a person appears, and delve into why they appear that way. People have real motivations for their behavior that really has nothing to do with their relationship with God.

    Homeless people are injured people, and before they can even begin to take control of their lives, they need to heal from those injuries, and before that can happen they need to develop an understanding of what caused those injuries in the first place. Just labeling the suffering that homeless people go through as "sin" or as a result of a poor relationship with God, is a narrow minded, and emotionally and spiritually immature approach to the problem, and will do little to no good for the homeless.

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  7. I didn't mention sin here . . . I understand the dysfunction that comes with some who have made so many bad choices, they can no longer make a good one. Also, I agree that hurting people need to heal before we can expect a fully functional human being to emerge. Many, who have been enslaved to various addictions, receive healing through a realtionship with God, through Jesus Christ. Just as AA challenges to accept help from a "higher power", the evangelical offers that through hospitality services that salve the physical hurts, and a gospel message that can heal the spirit. It is in our motivation and presentation of that message that I challenge my fellow Mission leaders.

    At LBRM we provide the basic needs of individuals first -- before offering them a respectful Chapel service and/or counsel that is not mandatory. However, there are very few coming through our doors who decide not to accept that invitation. It is my committment, and that of my staff, that everything we do shares the Good News of freedom and healing . . . and that what we say mirrors that. I think the response we receive from those we serve is evidence of how much we care for them and their needs and issues.
    Knowing that not all Missions may express themselves in a manner that accomodates each person, I recognize that we all need more understanding and grace.

    On the responsibility issue . . . this comes from expereince, not assumption. I have also managed for 9 years winter shelters for two counties. That provides a full measure of evidence of many (not all) who will only come for services that actually enable their situation but not being reciprocal and inter-dependent . . . requiring some response on their part. Again, this is not indicative of all chronic homeless. But many people on the streat have, unfortunately, reached a point of such hopelessness that they shy away from any help that can assist a step away from an existance on the street. These pain my heart, and frustrate me the most.

    As funds and open beds are becoming scarce, we are often left with a choice of limiting some services to those who want help. May people get beyond NIMBY and allow more suitable services to be provided where needed.

    Thank you for this conversation. Blessings!

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    1. SO MANY BAD CHOICES THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO MAKE A GOOD ONE!!?? You and those like you are the reason I stay the FUCK away from shelters. I became homeless when an employer breached contract, effectively robbing me of thousands over months of hard work. And the legal system isn't much help when you can't afford a decent attorney to go up against a corporation. You're attitude is part of the reason I remain homeless. STOP assuming a homeless person did something to deserve it. Most of us are good people who have been horribly fucked over. It's just that some don't deal with it as well as I have and develop problems.

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  8. I'll just make two points here. First, being that I have many years experience with rescue mission policies and practices, you really didn't need to mention sin for me know, and really for the whole world to know that rescue missions obsess over it. And lastly, you say that because of limited resources you are often left with a choice of limiting services to those who want help. The thing is, every homeless person wants help, regardless if their ability to express that desire for help in terms that rescue mission people understand and define as acceptable.

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  9. I just came across your blog and have read a few posts, very interesting insight from obvious experience in the trenches of homelessness. I felt compelled to comment on what the CEO had to say, because I just recently completed many years in a "faith based" Mission, which was without question the worst time of my life. Let me just say that these Missions, like most shelters, have no clue on how to address homeless people and the issue of homelessness in general. In this vile nation we call the "Divided States of America" where those not enslaved by capitalism are viewed as outcasts and subversive criminals, much is the label given to homeless people. In other words, if you don't work you "must be lazy" or "you are mentally defective" or "you want a handout" and the list goes on... The fact of the matter is that homeless people vary and that few people in society take the time so as to be inclined to get to know them. Shelters are garbage period, especially these religious faith based institutions preaching their "politically" motivated sermon. It goes something like this. A) We will let you have a dingy cot to sleep on in a room of 200 people, where filth and violence is the norm and disease being spread rapidly. You can get in line and be put on a waiting list so that you "may" be lucky enough to have a filthy cot/mat to sleep on overnight. Afterwards, we will gladly remove you from the premises at 5:00 am with "blessings of Jesus." The problem then is where do you go? No money, facing ostracism at every turn, being harassed by the bastards in positions of authority (ironically the same people your taxes fund) to help and benefit you, no place to eat, nowhere to use the bathroom because the sign reads "customers only" and the list goes on...


    So what do shelters really do, given that the general public despises homeless people and only seeks to sweep them our of sight? Well, let's look at this logically shall we. Shelters operate on public and private funds, they are a "business" like any other, regardless if claiming the 501c non-profit status. The CEO's and staff are compensated very well. The Mission I unfortunately crossed paths with, leadership made well over 145k per yr, not including bonuses, stock, pensions, health care etc. Average staff salary, 65k per yr. Now, here's what was taking place on my level as an observer to the madness. Services were being "cut" as a result of NOT having enough money, people being turned away, unless of course, you had a special "qualifying condition." Don't you just love this? So what is the condition? You have to be a felon or drug addict because our funding is geared towards "rehabilitation", oh I see, you have to commit crimes and go to prison or shoot heroin to be sheltered and indoctrinated with pseudo religious babble, well sounds great. Nothing beats a structured program designed to make you "normal" so that you can be another senseless cog in a broken machine, while you continue to lead an existence of detachment and desperation. But never fear because so long as you have "Jesus" you will never thirst.

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  10. I am of the firm belief that homelessness will continue to increase, regardless of the state of the economy. More people will commit suicide, violent crime will increase, people will distance themselves as much as possible from others and survival by any means will be the set norm. Why? well, if you read this post carefully there would be no doubt in your mind as to why. The CEO's rant talked about "HELP" and how Missions and secular shelters seek to help those who want it? I take serious issue with people throwing around that term "HELP" What does that mean and by whose definition are we going by? Your "idea" of help may be very detrimental to my well being. I would rather give a homeless man $5 so he can get a beer as opposed to referring him to "shelter" where you will preach his sins and place conditional demands on his or her life. I challenge anyone who has not been homeless to experience it, seriously step away from your comfortable materialistic greed and patriotic nonsense of community, God and country and look at your fellow human beings who are suffering. Rather than blaming the "individual" for poor decisions you should be focusing on how society failed that person. Once you see that we are byproducts of our culture and experiences with people shape whom we are, then we might make headway. Until that time, the only help for the homeless is themselves. If you have no one to trust and your are only a number in an institution where else do you turn? Oh yes, let's not forgot, Jesus loves you :)

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  11. It does bug me that many people say we are only the product of our decisions. That is only part of the story, because we are also products of other people's decisions. I have some control over my life, but I am not the only one influencing my life. We are the product of many influences, of which ourselves are only a small part. For example: I didn't invent the automobile, someone else did. I didn't build cars either, that was someone else. I didn't design and build roads either, nor the did I write the laws which govern cars and roads. And yet all those things done by other people will play a part when, as has happened to other people, a car goes out of control, veers onto the sidewalk and kills or maims someone. The state of the life of that person minding their own business and walking down the sidewalk never had a chance, never had the option, never had a voice or opportunity to make a decision to affect the outcome of their life.

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  12. I like the automobile analogy it makes perfect sense Kevin. As mentioned earlier, my experience with the shelter "system" was devastating, yet I kept a poker face on, smiling each day so as not to ruffle anyone's feathers, while at the same time suffering silently and in agony. I'm very agitated with the public perception and attitude towards the homeless. Once tragedy strikes and you have nowhere to turn you slip into the abyss. The public wants nothing to do with you and you helplessly watch local ordinances being put into play to get rid of you. After all, people operate from the premise that YOU caused yourself to be homeless and "society" is innocent on all counts, which is garbage. Just like the car analogy, there are many variables that contribute to the shaping of an individual. For instance, it's alright for us do be dependent on jobs to support our livelihood, yet there is NO GUARANTEE of work. Also, there is no "obligation" by employers to hire you because hiring is based on "necessity" as opposed to goodwill and the making of a healthy society.

    If the car kills someone on the road who is liable? The driver obviously. But in reality, that is not an accurate assumption. While the driver may play a part in the accident, what about the manufacturer? What about the mechanic who performed the inspection? What about your fellow drivers engaged in road rage or being drunk behind the wheel? You see, that's the problem with people and there false perception of the homeless. Which is why the problem will continue to increase in every corner of the U.S.


    Warm regards,

    Anthony

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  13. I live in PA and in my county, they don't acknowledge our homeless population. there are some soup kitchens and few shelters. I feel there's a lack of support and funding for these projects to have the outreach they need. My boyfriend and I would like to open a shelter someday and we've found our dream location. sometimes i think this is a far off idea but i would really like to give back to the community especially when it seems like few do and those that do don't seem to be recognized. I want to create some sort of outline, what kind of facilities besides room and board would make a shelter especially stand out?

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  14. No system is perfect, I have no experience with shelters or helping folks in any type of homeless assistance programs. From reading the comments and the article I have come to the conclusion that I need to take sometime to begin practising living to help others and not to serve myself. Instead of worrying about attitudes and policies just help with the nuts and bolts of operating one of these places.

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