Nashville’s Room In The Inn

Nashville’s Room In the Inn has six programs serving the homeless, the one similar to Columbia’s Room at the Inn is the Winter Shelter Program.  Below are its five key features:

  1. Uses congregation model— about 20 congregations shelter 12-15 guests in their own church about one night a week;
  2. Open from November 1 –March 31 (in a warmer climate than Columbia).
  3. Not more than “observational security”—no security wanding, no security guard, no checking metal items at the door;
  4. Alcohol use is not permitted (but there is alternative housing); and
  5. A sit-down dinner is provided by each congregation each night.


Room in The Inn

was founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 1986 by Father Charles Strobel and described in ROOM IN THE INN: Ways your Congregation Can Help Homeless People (1992) now available online at


The “Room in the Inn” is now a physical structure (built in 2010), called the campus, in the industrial area of Nashville. It has a “day center” with bag, medicine and valuable storage facilities as well as a sit-down lunch area, a coffee shop with entertainment six mornings a week, showers, job and housing assistance, computers and phones. Additionally, it has veteran programs, Hope University (classes from 7 AM-4 PM); a “Guest House (30 beds for alcohol recovery), recuperative care, and transition apartments. Only the Winter Shelter Program is seasonal. The Room in the Inn sees about 400-500 men and women a day (about 16 percent are women).


There are now about 35 Room in the Inns across the United States (but they may differ in goals, clientele, and organization).


Operation of the Winter Shelter Program

Between 200-300 guests check-in at the downtown campus before 5:30 and are assigned (goal is to promote friendships, racial integration, and varied experiences)  to one of the congregations for that evening. By 6 PM each congregation picks up the guests and transports them to their church where they have a sit-down dinner that has been prepared by church volunteers.  As much as possible, the guests are treated as guests in your home—no security wanding, no bag check-in,  they may smoke in designated areas, they are engaged in meaningful conversation. Usually between 8 and 10, TV or a movie is available. Lights out at 10. Guests may use designated smoking areas, often including outdoors, during the night. At 5:00 guests are wakened and a breakfast is served. About 6 AM, guests leave for the downtown campus and usually arrive before 7 AM.

Congregations usually volunteer once a week, some twice a month or less. They are responsible for providing each guest a sleeping cot or mattress, laundering the sheets (RITI provides clean blankets every night). Some have laundry and showers, all stock some over-the-counter medicine and hygiene supplies  Most have both men and women but a few are single gender.

(DW: one congregation I visited had 12 guests and told me they needed six volunteers each night and more for laundry and cots; another congregation that had more than 30 guests had 12 volunteers that evening including dinner preparation. Each of these two congregation had two volunteers stay the night—who were permitted to lay on their cot.)


The new congregation packet is available


Room at the Inn’s Winter Shelter Program cooperates with several other shelters in Nashville especially during weather emergency. In case of a weather emergency, suspensions are suspended and sanctioned guests are welcomed.

There is an emergency number for the coordinator (often called “the Innkeeper”) to call, if necessary.

Inebriated individuals are not sent out to a congregation but are offered a bed in the “Guest House” recovery room.

All new guests are required to watch a video discussing procedure and values of the Winter Shelter Program stressing non-violence (physical, verbal,  racial, or sexual).

Room at the Inn now has more than 190 congregations participating with over 7,000 individual volunteers serving more than 1,350 men and women.


Other Room at the Inn Programs

The Winter Shelter Program is supported by the Room at the Inn’s ongoing programs and facilities. Because it is provided by congregation volunteers, only about 6 percent of Room in the Inn’s $3.4 million budget is allocated to the Winter Shelter Program compared with 21 percent for the alcohol recovery Guest House” 20 percent for education programs, and 17 percent for veterans programs. The Room in the Inn receives 40 percent of its budget from private donations, 31 percent of its budget from government funds, 19 percent from in-kind donations, and 10 percent from fee services.

Room at the Inn stresses its core values (respect, non-violence, community) and encourages guests to find permanent housing and employment.

Guests can be suspended for threating behavior but incidents are rare (about five a year) by the congregations. Guests earn points for completing classes which they can use in the Room In the Inn store or at the coffee shop.

Women at the Winter Shelter Programs are considered to have needs different (e.g. more domestic abuse and bonding issues) than men and are required to attend a women’s group at 2:30 each afternoon.



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