The Murfreesboro location of Room In The Inn recently closed its doors due to the city ending its lease agreement with the homeless shelter. Despite city officials claiming that the lease agreement was ended because of issues with non-compliance, Room In The Inn Executive Director Bobby Copeland stated that he was never aware of said issues.
The current lease agreement expires June 30, and the shelter officially closed its doors to new residents on June 17 after leasing the property on West Main Street for about 21 years. The choice from the city to not renew the lease came after City Community Development Director John Callow and representatives from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency investigated the shelter. The investigation was brought on by complaints that were filed with the City Comptroller’s Office in November. After the investigation, the THDA decided to suspend Emergency Solutions Grant funding for Room In The Inn. Employees and volunteers at the shelter are currently working to transition to a new location, according to Copeland.
“That’s what we are doing now is getting ready – as much as we can – to go, but we don’t have a spot yet,” Copeland said.
After the THDA suspended the funding, Callow asked the shelter to provide documentation, which the shelter failed to provide. Callow stated that Room In The Inn continuously failed to provide documentation throughout the investigation and that their response to the complaints was “not sufficient.” Despite this, Copeland said that he was not aware of any kind of non-compliance within the shelter.
“They haven’t notified me of any kind of non-compliance,” Copeland said. “There was no such thing, I don’t think. … If we have a complaint, we address it immediately.”
According to Callow, however, Copeland’s assessment that there were no issues of non-compliance is untrue.
“If Bobby Copeland is saying that he was not aware of these issues, that’s just not right,” Callow said. “For him to say, ‘We weren’t aware of this,’ that’s just disingenuous.”
Callow stated that when the THDA representatives requested documents from Room In The Inn, they were not provided with the answers they required.
“The folks at THDA said, ‘This isn’t going to work,’” Callow said. “‘And even though the agreement is between the city and Room In The Inn, we recommend you terminate the agreement, and, whether you terminate the agreement or not, we are not going to pay for anything anymore.’”
Due to the non-satisfactory response given to the THDA by Room In The Inn, the city wanted answers.
“We still haven’t seen responses to most of those things that we asked for in December,” Callow said. “When you call the City Comptroller’s Office, that means the agency better do something quick.”
One of the key issues that concerned the city throughout the investigation was Title VI Civil Rights violations.
According to Callow, one of the issues raised in the complaints was that the shelter was not properly explaining why they stopped providing services to certain clients. The city required the shelter to hold records on why the decisions were made, which Room In The Inn failed to provide. The failure to provide the documentation could be construed as a violation of Title VI, according to Callow.
Title VI is a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin in programs that receive federal funding.
“If you take one penny of federal money, you are bound by Title VI,” Callow said. “If you are not willing to satisfy that complaint, which could be construed as a Title VI violation, you are jeopardizing the city of Murfreesboro. Every single penny of federal money that comes into the city of Murfreesboro is jeopardized.”
Callow stated that his staff is still willing to assist Room In The Inn in finding a new building, but Copeland said that he does not wish to pursue the help of the city.
“We aren't telling them that they can’t do business,” Callow said. “We are just telling them that they can’t do business in a building that is owned by the city of Murfreesboro.”
According to Copeland, the shelter will survive without the assistance of the city and the THDA. He acknowledged the loss of ESG funding but said that it would not hurt Room In The Inn in any serious capacity.
“People are making a big deal of those grants, but you were given some money to spend, and they told you how to spend it,” Copeland said. “And I gave part of it back. We didn’t need it, simple as that. … There was a limited amount of things that you could spend (the funding) on.”