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New Memphis facility aims to help the homeless recover from illness

Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 11:42 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In April, there was the grand opening of a new safe haven for the homeless population in Memphis.

Millions of dollars were spent renovating the historic Collins Chapel Connectional Hospital on Ayers Street after a three decade plus break from service.

The building sat vacant on the outskirts of the Memphis medical district for decades. It’s now the new home for Room In The Inn- Memphis.

For over 10 years, the nonprofit has worked with over 50 church congregations throughout Memphis to provide emergency overnight shelter during the cold winter months for those with nowhere to go. However, executive director Lisa Anderson noticed a disturbing trend.

“Very often we started seeing people coming in that had been discharged from the hospital and sometimes literally in hospital gowns, sometimes transported to us by ambulance,” said Anderson.

Anderson saw a major gap in healthcare.

What do you do with someone who no longer has a medical reason to stay in a hospital, but has nowhere to go once they leave?

Anderson said, “Being out on the street in all sorts of weather, sleeping in conditions that are not conducive to getting well from an illness.”

So that’s where the longtime vacant building on Ayers came into play.

It was founded in the early 1900s by the Christian Methodist Episcopal church as the Collins Chapel Connectional Hospital. It was a place where blacks with nowhere else to go in the once segregated south could get healthcare.

Fast forward more than a century later and this building is now used to provide healthcare to another vulnerable population, creating the region’s first ever recuperative care center for the homeless.

It’s no longer a medical facility, but it does provide other necessities for recovery, like three square meals a day, individual rooms for up to 21 people, and a workout room to help regain strength after a medical procedure.

Fifty-five-year-old Kenneth Randolph was one of the center’s first residents after surviving a traumatic injury.

“I was in Jackson and I got off the bus, getting ready to go to a shopping center and I stepped down and a sharp pain went through my whole right side,” said Randolph.

After years of having no health insurance, Randolph says he didn’t know a cyst was growing in his leg.

Doctors were forced to amputate.

“The man upstairs said I just took your limb. I didn’t take your life,” said Randolph.

Room In The Inn helps manage Randolph’s medical appointments, provides transportation to those appointments, and makes sure he’s taking his medication.

But Anderson says this new facility is not the answer to the problem, affordable permanent housing is. According to the 2020 State of Memphis Housing Report, the metro area has a shortage of 38,000 affordable housing units.

Before COVID-19, on average, one in five renting Memphians would face an eviction filing. The outlook is even more bleak for people in the homeless community.

“The people like Mr. Randolph that we we’re talking about, there may be housing for him, but for it to be safe, for it to be clean, for it to be kept up, that’s our crisis,” said Anderson.

While guests are recuperating, Room In The Inn staff are working to make sure their final destination isn’t back on the streets. Room in the Inn strives to find permanent housing for all their guests.

Room In the Inn is also helping homeless families stay together.

Upstairs from the recuperative care center” is the “Family Inn”. Entire families can stay in their temporary housing floor.

All of the families for the program are recommended through MIFA.

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