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August 8, 2020

7/22/2020 11:31:00 AM
Homeless shelter still in 'relaunch' business
Wayside Inn staff members, from left, Jeanne Long, Tom Long, and Travis Barnes stand on the staircase attached to the outside of the homeless shelter located on 304 Hoosier Street.—Staff Photo by Kylan Higgs.
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Wayside Inn staff members, from left, Jeanne Long, Tom Long, and Travis Barnes stand on the staircase attached to the outside of the homeless shelter located on 304 Hoosier Street.—Staff Photo by Kylan Higgs.
Kylan Higgs

The North Vernon homeless shelter, Wayside Inn, located at 304 Hoosier Street, has remained open despite the COVID-19 outbreak, though their intake process has been adjusted and strict cleaning protocols have increased significantly.

Doorknobs and handles get wiped down constantly and the bathroom must get an overall spritz with a bleach solution after every use. Masks must be worn indoors and residents must wash their hands upon entering the building.

The shelter has always been health conscious, according to volunteers Jeanne and Tom Long, even before the pandemic. Residents must participate in cleanliness upkeep, not only for the shelter but for themselves, too.

Safeguards now in place include the Phase One interview process to become a resident now taking place outdoors. Phase One includes proof of being a Jennings County resident and a background check with no domestic abuse or violence history. Applicants must not be exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms. If they are showing symptoms, they must get a doctor's notice saying they are not sick.

If a resident becomes sick with COVID-19, the shelter will go on lockdown, but, as of yet, no Wayside resident has been diagnosed with COVID. Since the outbreak, the shelter has had as many as 11 residents at once.

Recently, Wayside has partnered with Hoosier Street Grill in the restaurant's program to provide meals to the needy, according to the shelter's Board of Directors vice-president Steve Graham.

"We have a lot of canned goods donated to the shelter that we're able to share with the folks at the grill to help continue the program," Steve said.

Tracy Hall at Hoosier Street Grill offers free meals to Wayside residents whenever they come in. Before the virus, she offered free hot meals for the public every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. or until she ran out of food. She hopes to resume these free meals once school starts the week of Aug. 6.

According to Wayside manager Tom Long, churches are the shelter's biggest source of funding.

"I don't know where we'd be without them," Tom said of the Christian community support.

Tom puts in 40 hours a week of paid work at the shelter, plus an additional ten hours of his own time. He and his wife, Jeanne, have been working at the shelter for about three years.

"We want to be good stewards," said Tom. "We want to be moral community-wise and we don't want to take our reputation for granted. We want to do right by the people in need."

It should be noted that Wayside Inn is not a permanent solution, it is not a nursing home, a food bank or a mental facility. Residents are only allowed to stay 30 days a year. Wayside is here to help people "relaunch" themselves back into society. Staff do this by providing temporary shelter and supplying food, but also by providing residents with resources to help them overcome their situation, whether that situation is having an addiction problem, being unable or unwilling to find employment, or something as uncontrollable as being homeless because of a house fire.

One program aligned with the shelter to help relaunch residents is the Potter' s House transitional housing program located on 504 Fourth Street in North Vernon, where Tom works as well.

The Potter's House is a recovery house and program that helps others establish the proper footing one needs to step back into life empowered and equipped through life coaching. The Potter's House is run by a group of like-minded pastors who came together to form The Pavillion Churches.

Travis Barnes, volunteer and maintenance staff member at Wayside, was once on the wrong side of the tracks himself. He had a life-changing experience after he was finally arrested for his actions and he gave his life to Christ. He now volunteers his time at the shelter, offering his dual perspective to residents of a before-and-after "relaunched" life.

"I spent so much of my time destroying the community, now I want to build it," Travis said.

The goal at Wayside Inn is to maintain accountability and integrity with the community, help its people and continue to be a resource.

As Travis puts it, "Desire for change must be greater than your desire to stay the same."

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