Three Nashville organizations have partnered to make sure hundreds of young adults living on the city’s streets have somewhere warm and safe to sleep every night when cold weather arrives.
It’s the first time in the city’s history that youth-specific shelters will be available every night of the week.
Last year organizations Oasis and Launch Pad provided overnight shelter three nights a week to nearly 1,000 youth ages 18-24.
This year Room In The Inn has opened its facilities to offer overnight shelter on Wednesdays, the last night not covered by the other two organizations.
The group will also host a dinner from 4-6 p.m. prior to the shelter opening. Room In The Inn’s Executive Director Rachel Hester said the goal is to create a “safe space.”
“We found a larger number (of youth) weren’t coming into traditional services – day shelter, shelter programs that happen in the congregations throughout the city, and meals,” she said.
“It’s to bring them in a smaller group so we can alleviate their fears and misconceptions.”
The organizations are working to pull more youth off the streets by providing a warm place to sleep, food and beverages in a safe, affirming atmosphere. Their youth-specific overnight shelters are open now through March.
“The threat of freezing to death may not resonate with them as it would with an adult,” said Mark Dunkerley, chief strategy officer at Oasis Center.
He explained that one unique factor working with homeless youth during the winter is that many of them don’t see themselves as homeless until the temperatures drop.
“We’ve got a good group of folks that are camping out by the river or with friends and got no rules. A lot of them are enjoying themselves for a time until the winter months roll around and the reality that ‘I don’t have a place to go’ sets in.”
Mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma from being on the streets, and dual dependence on drugs and alcohol can impact their decision-making skills, he said.
Dunkerley and representatives from the organizations said providing shelter seven nights a week for this population is essential because young adults often feel unsafe or uncomfortable at shelters that focus on treating chronic adult homelessness.
“These youth face very unique challenges at the regular shelters,” said Derek Gibson, Launch Pad president and executive director.
He explained that adult shelters can be especially intimidating to youth who are members of the LGBTQ community.
The organizations estimate that about 40 percent of the youth they serve identify as LGBTQ.
“They’re much more likely to experience discrimination. Some from the organization, some from the other guests. They’re at much greater risks of violence at those situations,” he said.
Congregations that are partnering with the organizations to provide shelter have signed off on being “open and affirming” to all youth.
“A lot of our young people have had bad experiences being rejected by their families or religions because of their sexual identity. They don’t want to be around one more place that’s going to reject them, or even worse, try to change them,” Dunkerley said. “(If) they’re not welcomed as their authentic selves, they’ll go somewhere else,”
Family conflict has been reported by both the federal government and advocates as the number one cause of youth homelessness. The True Colors Fund, an organization that advocates for homeless LGBTQ youth, reports that family conflict tends to be over sexual orientation and gender identity. (Generational poverty, youth exiting foster care and affordable housing also top the federal government’s list of reasons why 18-24 year olds become homeless.)
“When they come into a nonjudgmental space, they noticeably relax, especially after the second or third night,” Gibson said.
Launch Pad’s host sites provide overnight shelter on Sundays (West End United Methodist Church), Tuesdays (St. Augustine’s Chapel) and Thursdays (East End United Methodist Church) beginning at 8:30 p.m. A shower is available at two facilities.
Gibson said, “We give them a hot dinner, quick breakfast, hot coffee and a snack pack with water to take with them in the morning.”
He added that this year Launch Pad – operated only by volunteers – has been focusing on improving training for those volunteering at the shelters. Volunteers who take shifts at the overnight shelters can access online, classroom and on-site training.
“We don’t know what these people have been through during the course of the day. We don’t know their background,” he explained. “(The training) will focus on guest safety, de-escalation and some cultural things they may not understand specific to homelessness.”
Oasis opens its warming shelter at 9 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. The organization offers guests snacks in the evening and breakfast.
Room In The Inn opens its youth-specific shetler on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. after dinner and provides breakfast in the morning.
The three organizations are currently seeking volunteers for its shelters.
“This is a need that is larger than even those of us who are involved realized and it’s not going to go away,” Gibson said.
“These young folks come in and they’re hopeful. (He or she) wants to find a job, wants to find a house, may be working multiple jobs, but that hope is fragile.
“Anything we can do to coach (hope) – by giving them a place to sleep, a hot meal – that’s what we’re there for.”
How to help local organizations providing shelter:
Volunteers: Sign up to stay overnight, help out in the evening or early mornings.
Men’s and women’s
Volunteers: Help out at a shelter, sign up to
cook a hot meal or help with laundry
ROOM IN THE INN
Coats, hats, gloves and scarves. Hand warmers
Volunteers: Sign up to teach evening classes to youth (art, songwriting, guitar lessons, fixing a bike, etc.)
(Image source: unsplash.com)