A Shoals nonprofit is trying to find new ways to shelter the homeless during a pandemic as winter is coming up.
Room in the Inn Shoals normally has about 40 host churches in the area that house the homeless every night during winter months. But most churches can't help this year because of precautions they are taking for the coronavirus pandemic.
Room in the Inn planned to have the homeless stay at its intake center in downtown Florence, but the city said zoning codes don't allow that.
Now, the nonprofit has come up with an emergency plan, so if temperatures drop below freezing, people won't lose their lives in the cold. About a handful of churches have decided that they will be a part of this emergency plan and house the homeless in life or death temperatures.
"If we can't do that, then we should probably close our doors as a church because we are called to take care of other people and it is the simplest of simple," said Jonathan Johnson.
First Baptist Church Center Star will open its doors in emergency situations rather than risk someone losing their life in the cold. Deacon Jonathan Johnson is also a board member with Room in the Inn. He said the pandemic has really complicated things for homeless people and the nonprofit that's here to help them.
"Even at our church, we've had a few weeks where we've had to shut down because of the number of cases we were exposed to in our congregation, so not being able to predict the future and knowing exactly what each week is going to look like or the day to day. We have a plan one day, then it moves on us," said Johnson.
They tried to plan with the city of Florence and asked the city if people can stay at the intake center overnight with volunteers.
"The city's response was that our building wasn't zoned for overnight guests and that there were some overnight guests. We understand those and we were really requesting an emergency because of coronavirus," said Room in the Inn Shoals founder, Krista Manchester.
The nonprofit sent a letter to the city and Florence Mayor Andy Betterton asking for clarification on a safety plan.
"We haven't really gotten a lot of response on what that would require. We're still really unsure of what that would require and freezing temperatures are almost here," said Manchester. "There's no way to quarantine yourself when you're homeless so their fears and anxieties are pretty high, too. We just try and see them as people and especially vulnerable people in something like this."
WAAY 31 reached out to the city of Florence to ask why it hasn't responded to Room in the Inn's request.
Mayor Andy Betterton said, "After recently discovering the Room in the Inn letter had been sent to me via a previously used email address, I have had the chance to review its contents and agree that resolution and swift action are required to effectively address the overwhelming needs of our homeless population. I welcome an opportunity to host a larger, multi-agency discussion surrounding this issue.”