Changing the Face of Homelessness to One That We Know

About 5 years ago, I had the chance to have a conversation with the founding director of Room in the Inn, Charles Strobel, that changed my life. He shared with me how the ministry started, how it has grown, and how God has led along the way. On a cold winter night in 1985, there were several homeless people camped outside his church doors. The contrast of the warm empty church with the cold parking lot and the Holy Spirit’s leading caused him to open the doors of the church and allow the homeless to spend the night in his church.

Now, 170 congregations across Nashville provide similar care for the homeless, not only providing individuals with a warm bed, meals and opportunities for showering and laundry, but providing personal care to each individual in need. I think the most important work of Room in the Inn is changing the face of the homeless from panhandler to person, from drunkard to disadvantaged, from lazy to loved.

The first time I sat at a table as I volunteered with Room in the Inn, I was disconcerted with the fact that I could not clearly distinguish homeless from other volunteers. We talked the same, laughed at the same things, had college educations, wanted health and happiness. And it was only by God’s grace that I got to go back to my own home that day, instead of wondering where I would be sleeping the next night.

It reminds me again of the Shane Claiborne quote, “The great tragedy in the Church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” Room in the Inn changes the church as much as the church changes the homeless.

And Room in the Inn is much more than just coordinating churches to house the homeless. They provide classes on everything from GED training to art classes to computer literacy. Our PA students have been going to Room in the Inn to do weekly workshops for the residents, providing health tips for the participants. (Have you ever thought about how hard it is to come up with attainable health tips for the homeless? Our students do a great job with a nearly impossible task!) 

On Room in the Inn’s main campus, there is also a Guest House for intoxicated individuals as an alternative to jail. And in partnership with the Metro Government, the Guest House offers food and shelter 24 hours a day to individuals undergoing alcohol and drug treatment.

Room in the Inn also has a program that helps chronically homeless individuals gain life skills necessary to move toward stability in their lives  including healing, education, life skills, recovery, job readiness, and housing.

One of my favorite things that Room in the Inn does is provide care for homeless individuals being discharged from the hospital. If you’ve ever been hospitalized, you know that by the time you are released you are nowhere near 100%. You surround yourself with family and friends to check on you, help with food and drink, and do “heavy lifting” chores for you. If you are homeless, you are released to the stress of worrying about where you are going to sleep and find food, and there is no opportunity for rest and recovery. Now Room in the Inn’s Respite program gives homeless individuals the chance to recover from hospitalization and surgery in a clean and safe environment. Medical providers can refer patients to the Respite program, knowing that their patients will have a chance for recovery.

Room in the Inn has a Veteran’s program to help those who have served our country with transitional services, education, and case management.

Room in the Inn has many other services it offers the homeless (for things that we often take for granted) in a relational setting. A place to eat. A hot shower. A mailbox to receive mail. Help obtaining identification documents in order to gain access to government services.

Room in the Inn simply does great work connecting The Church with the homeless of our community, and serving the homeless as Christ himself would.

But such great work cannot be done alone! Last year 5,000 volunteers gave well over 100,000 hours of service to the individuals served by Room in the Inn, and there is more work to be done. In addition, Room in the Inn regularly needs donations of material goods to use directly, in classes, or to give participants a chance to earn as they take part in educational classes.

Here is Room in the Inn’s current wish list. (Click here for a printable PDF.)

  • AA and AAA batteries
  • air fresheners
  • antacids
  • antifungal foot cream (OTC, generic ok)
  •  art gift cards-plaza, the art store
  •  art supplies
  • backpacks
  • baseball caps
  • batteries (AA and AAA)
  • bleach
  • body spray (travel size men’s) 
  • books
  • boots (new only)
  • boxers and boxer briefs (adult sizes, new only)
  • brushes
  • bus passes (one way/all day)
  • calculators
  • canned goods
  • canvas (art supplies)
  • cd players with headphones
  • cd’s
  • chapstick
  • coffee
  • colored pencils
  • copy paper (colored)
  • copy paper (white)
  • cough drops
  • deodorant (travel size men’s)
  • dish soap
  • disposable razors (double/triple bladed)
  • double/triple blade razors
  • fabric softener sheets
  • fast food gift cards
  • feminine hygiene products
  • file folders
  • flip-flops, rubber (new only-men’s sizes L and XL)
  • folders
  • foot powder (travel size men’s)
  • fresh fruits
  • fresh vegetables
  • gift cards (Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart preferred)
  • gloves (new only, adult sizes)
  • gum
  • hair care items
  • hand warmers
  • hanging file folders
  • hats (new only, adult sizes)
  • hooded sweatshirts (new only – adult size –XL to 4XL)
  • laundry detergent
  • leather (art supplies)
  • long distance phone cards
  • long underwear (new only – adult size – L, XL to 4XL)
  • lotion (travel size men’s)
  • magazines
  • magic markers
  • men’s white socks (new only)
  • mints
  • movie passes
  • new computer equipment
  • note pads
  • notebook paper
  • office supplies
  • oil paints
  • paints (art supplies)
  • paper towels
  • pencils
  • pens
  • phone cards (long distance)
  • playing cards
  • puzzle books
  • quality software – MS Office Suite, adult educational software
  • radios (am/fm) with headphones
  • razors
  • reading glasses (all strengths)
  • sewing kits
  • shampoo (travel size)
  • shaving cream (travel size men’s)
  • shoes (new only)
  • sketch pads
  • snacks (non-perishable)
  • soap
  • socks (white, new only)
  • softscrub
  • spiral notebooks
  • store gift cards (Kroger, Target, Wal-Mart preferred)
  • sugar-free candy
  • sunglasses
  • sunscreen
  • sweatshirts (new only, adult size – L, XL to 4XL)[hooded preferred]
  • tapes, audio
  • tea
  • three ring binders
  • tiles for art room
  • toiletries
  • tooth brushes
  • toothpaste (travel size)
  • tote bags
  • tote bags with zippers
  • t-shirts (new only, adult size – L, XL to 4XL)
  • underwear (new only)


For more information or to sign up for a tour or orientation, please contact Hilary Barnett, Volunteer Manager, at

***This year during Lent, I’m going to highlight organizations and individuals that are giving to this community, and around the world. Most are faith-based, some are not. All are serving the poor. My focus is drawing nearer to the heart of God, by drawing nearer to those He cares for: the poor, the widows, the outcasts, the foreigner, the orphans.



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