The congregation of Woodland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville wanted to know how to help people experiencing homelessness – literally in their backyard. When the church hosts community dinners each Saturday, it attracts a number of people experiencing homelessness, and some end up sleeping on the church’s playground at night.
This prompted the church to host a panel Sept. 6 titled “Streets, Camps and Couches: Ministry to the Unhoused.” Adam Graham, housing coordinator at Urban Housing Solutions, Jeff Moles, community coordinator for Room In The Inn homeless service, and Sally Besuden, outreach worker at Metro Homelessness Commission, answered questions from Woodland Presbyterian temporary pastor Leigh Bonner and the audience.
Getting into a shelter and permanent housing isn’t the goal for everyone, the panel noted. Shelters are crowded, which makes some feel unsafe, Besuden says, and some may have had a negative experience at a shelter before. Also, pets are often unwelcome and couples can’t stay together in shelters. Moles admits that it can be complicated to get in at Room In The Inn because the number of beds each night varies. A Christian background of a shelter alone can be a deterrent as well. These barriers can make people choose to camp instead.
“I find that the vast majority of people I see in camps are wanting to get into housing but they’ve lost hope,” Besuden says. “They’ve come across so many different barriers and they’re dealing with addiction, burned bridges and no support system.”
Graham added that people often get stuck in the transitional housing for many years at a time, unable to afford permanent housing.
Moles points to lack of affordable housing and the criminal justice system as main contributors of homelessness. He says people who spend time in jail are affected for the rest of their lives.
“So often people that we encounter want to make changes in their lives and want to do their part, so they go to job training programs and they’re ready to get a job, but nobody will hire them because they have something in their background,” Moles says.
He explained that it’s important to build relationships with those experiencing homelessness to put a face and name with the cause in order to become better advocates.
“It’s just much more difficult than just getting somebody a meeting with a case manager and solving all their issues,” he says. “We have to recognize the complexity.”