City code stops certain churches from housing the homeless - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

City code stops certain churches from housing the homeless

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The first program in Memphis was started by Lisa Anderson after talking with the organization in Nashville. The first program in Memphis was started by Lisa Anderson after talking with the organization in Nashville.
MEMPHIS, TN -

(WMC-TV) - The recent drop in temperatures has brought a renewed effort to shelter the homeless. But, one group has found that an ordinance is keeping them from helping those in need.

Room In The Inn is a program being run at various churches in Memphis for three years. But when Trinity United Methodist Church decided to start one in the Evergreen neighborhood, a city/county ordinance got in the way.

"We're only helping them one night," said Lois Young, who is trying to help the homeless with her church family.

The first program in Memphis was started by Lisa Anderson after talking with the organization in Nashville.

"The goal of Room In The Inn is to provide hospitality first and foremost in an environment that's safe and non-violent and warm," said Anderson.

"The church goes to a designated location downtown, picks up 12 unsheltered individuals and brings them back to the church and makes them a nice warm meal, a place to sleep for the night," explained Young.

But a city/county ordinance written in the Unified Development Code prohibits housing anyone at the church, as well as many others.

"They are prohibited from having overnight accommodations unless they sit on a site of five acres or more," said Josh Whitehead, director of planning for Memphis and Shelby County. "So some of your smaller places of worship would be prohibited to have overnight accommodations."

Whitehead says that is a tough code to enforce unless someone files a complaint, which is what happened after the Evergreen Neighborhood Association published an article about Room In The Inn.

"It has been disappointing that people are opposed to churches housing the homeless people. But code is there for a reason, it's for safety reasons and we understand that and respect that. We just want to have people off the street in the winter," added Anderson.

Whitehead admits the ordinance is vague and could use a revision, but that could take months.

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