Long nights with low temperatures are waiting for the homeless and with winter approaching there is an ongoing lack of shelter space. For single men, there simply are not many options to be found – and so they make their own.
Ann and Jim Simmons have some ideas on the matter and have heard a calling to make them happen.
Local women and families can seek shelter at the Shepherd’s House which has been serving hundreds annually since 2003. When Shepherd’s House broke ground on an expansion from 18 to 48 beds in 2018, that was a cause for celebration.
As Executive Director Mary Boyles noted in a statement at the time, “The Shepherd’s House is the only homeless shelter in a four-county area, and we desperately need to increase our capacity to serve.” Focusing on women and families leaves a gap that other organizations had been working to bridge.
Then, social distancing and stay at home orders caused disruptions to daily life; across the board, few people were not affected in some way. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many civic and charitable groups to shutter their operations as well.
The Mount Airy Rotary Club heard from the Simmons, with Ann highlighting a few initiatives she has in mind. She presented an assessment of what her group needs right now to get The Mount Airy Men’s Shelter off the ground.
“We were called to serve,” Simmons told the Rotarians, and her group had a location selected for a “Room at the Inn” for this winter.
“We were set to purchase the property, it’s a church parcel, with the pastor retiring in December. The price was agreeable,” Simmons explained of their targeted location on Worth Street. “There is also on the property a two-bedroom parsonage that we were going to use for families and women.”
Circumstances beyond their control such as remodeling, up-fits and the uncertainty of special use permits meant that location has fallen through, and with their initiatives in motion what Simmons’ group needs most is space.
A lack of housing during winter for the homeless often leads them to find shelter and warmth wherever they can. Sometimes that may mean surreptitiously entering a business posing as a customer, as was described at the meeting.
As the general manger for Hampton Inn in Mount Airy, Lenise Lynch has had to deal with the emotions that come from seeing a need and not being able to help. “There are so many men in our community that are homeless. They try to sleep in our lobby area or under our stairwells and we have to ask them to leave with no option to give them.”
Upon hearing Lynch’s description, it was Jim who perked right up, “Call us, once we’re open – we’ll come get them for you.” Lynch expressed her gratitude for the new project to the Simmons, it is just this level of involvement that is going to need to be needed.
There is a desire to serve for the Simmons, but they need help to get things going. In years past First Presbyterian Church has been host to A Room at the Inn. Concerns over COVID transmission put a stop to that given it was a shared space. Thankfully, the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter was a beneficiary of that change as they inherited the cots and linens previously used there.
For the bitter cold months ahead, Simmons needs a place for the cots she already has. Ideally a space at a church such as a fellowship hall would be ideal, but any facility with a kitchen and restrooms will do. “It doesn’t have to be a church; it could be in a country club hall. It just needs to be within the city.”
Long term goals look different to Simmons as she sees a need for collaborating with the men to help change situations, not just locations. Simmons has discussed this with Mount Airy Mayor Ron Niland and in presentations with groups like the Rotary Club.
“We are going to have to get involved and spend some time with these men. We want to offer them AA or NA meetings, hear from speakers who have overcome and succeeded,” Simmons told the group. “We want to have options available for women, and maybe a room for families. We don’t want to turn anyone away.”
Lynch has seen what cold and hunger can do to men and, “I am thankful that we will have a place that we can recommend to these individuals. I wish Mrs. Simmons the best of luck in helping these men and working towards a healthier community.”
Residents can help the Mount Airy Men’s Shelter in a variety of ways, most notable would be to house the Room at the Inn for January and February. Financial contributions can be made to this 501(c)(3) organization and as with any shelter, there is going to be a need for supplies too. Simmons has compiled a list of items ranging from toiletries and clothing to kitchen wares for cooking.
Volunteers can also help at the shelter itself as assistance will be needed with meal prep, cleanup, transportation, as well as someone to sit with the overnight guests.
Some donations will cost nothing but mean the world, “Most of all, we need your prayers that God will touch lives and provide the support to make this mission happen.”
Find out more, contact: Mount Airy Men’s Shelter @ 336-708-5777, and Mens2021Shelter@gmail.com.