PHOTO: Barbara Layden, who oversees the Room In The Inn program at Franklin First United Methodist Church, and Steve Fulton, who drives the bus for the program, are co-leaders in the church’s emergency shelter operation that went into effect Aug. 1. / Photo by John McBryde
By JOHN McBRYDE
Annette Lane calls herself a people person.
By the very definition of the term, the lifelong Franklin resident is outgoing, kindhearted and caring for all people, regardless of their circumstances.
That’s an integral reason she has been the ideal volunteer the past couple of years for Pastor Kevin Riggs and the Franklin Community Church, especially through her help in the community center on Natchez Street in Franklin. Her warm smile and personality are welcoming indeed for people who drop by the center.
And now Lane is bringing her people skills to a new ministry that began on Aug. 1 and is hosted at Franklin First United Methodist Church near the intersection of Mack Hatcher Boulevard and Franklin Road. She’s a monitor for the emergency shelter that has been established to provide a place for people who are homeless to come in out of the heat and later this year out of the cold.
“I always care about people’s wellbeing,” said Lane, who helps people get transportation to the shelter and stays overnight at the church when the shelter is in operation. “Just because you’re homeless doesn’t mean you’re heartless, and they’re just people needing help. I was always taught to help.”
Lane’s role as a monitor is just part of what has made it possible for Franklin First UMC to operate as an emergency shelter.
The church stepped up when Riggs, longtime homeless advocate who launched the Williamson County Homeless Alliance earlier this year, went looking for a facility that could accommodate guests for overnight stays when the temperatures got 90 degrees and above in summer and 32 and below in winter.
“It’s just as miserable when it’s 90 or above and the humidity puts it at 105 or 110 as it would be if it’s 30 degrees,” said Steve Fulton, a member of Franklin First who operates the shelter along with Barbara Layden, also a member. “There is not much difference. You’re sweating and you’re miserable versus you’re freezing and you’re miserable.”
Like many churches in Williamson County and elsewhere, Franklin First has been a host for Room In The Inn for many years and welcomes guests through the program’s winter season two nights a week. Fulton said that church staff and trustees were unanimous in their approvals for also serving as an emergency shelter.
Riggs said that in the first 21 days of August, the weather was hot enough for the church to open as a shelter for 12 nights, with the facilities and resources to host up to 12 people each night.
People experiencing homelessness in the area “have not had anything like this available to them in Williamson County, and versus their options and what they’ve dealt with, this is just a breath of fresh air,” Fulton said. “And every one of them, when they leave here, they can’t thank us enough. This gets them off the streets and gives them a good night’s rest.”
The church provides four rooms for sleeping, bathrooms with showers and toiletries, a room with a TV and a place to relax, and coffee and water. Meals are provided through donations from Cool Café, Franklin Chop House, 55 South, Pueblo Real, Sonic, Puckett’s and McAlister’s Deli. Riggs pointed out in his most recent Homeless Alliance newsletter that costs for the shelter run between $200 and $225 per night. He added the ultimate goal is to find permanent housing for those seeking shelter, and that has been reached for two families that had been staying at the church.
Riggs and Fulton both also stressed the need for more churches to open as emergency shelters.
“We would really, really like to have other churches close by step up and provide their space like they do for Room In The Inn,” Fulton said. “We would be more than happy to meet with them and explain how it works.
“I feel as Christians, we’re called to help.”