“Even though we are entering our fifth season of serving these most vulnerable members of our county, many citizens and churches are unaware of this organization and what we have been called to do,” said Stephen Wheeley with Compassionate Hands. “Based on the highly successful Room in the Inn system established more than 25 years ago in Nashville, Compassionate Hands is also composed of local churches of every denomination and size working in unison to provide life saving shelters from Dec. 1 through March 15 each winter. As well as seeing to the physical needs of our guests, we provide spiritual sustenance and assistance and guidance in obtaining medical care and jobs in certain cases.
The ministry started in January 2013 by taking warm clothes, sleeping bags and food directly to homeless people either on the street or in hidden camps where they stayed.
“Many here in the second wealthiest county in our state may scoff at the fact we have a significant number of homeless living here,” Wheeley said. “But the truth is we do, and despite the booming economy, their number is growing, not shrinking as the statistics show.”
According to Wheeley, the more than 20 churches affiliated with Compassionate Hands provided 444 bed nights – not the total number of guests – for homeless people during its first year from December 2013 through March 2014. The number increased to 1,043 the second year, 1,317 the third year and grew to 1,588 last season. He said the breakdown was 85 different men and 27 women.
“That’s 112 souls kept from staying on the street all night long at different times,” Wheeley said. “If the trend continues, we will obviously shelter more this winter.”
Wheeley said many of the homeless Compassionate Hands serves are lifelong Wilson County residents or have lived locally much of their lives.
“[They] are not transients just passing through as the unknowing might assume,” he said. “Many have full-time jobs, but in today’s world where, because of our growth and high average income they are priced out of the housing market. Minimum wage doesn’t go far today, especially if one has doctor and pharmacy bills to pay, which many homeless do.
“One of the most eye opening aspects of serving in Compassionate Hands has been finding out how many guests we have known personally in the past, particularly if you have been involved in certain businesses like construction as I was. Our homeless aren’t aliens dropped down from some other planet. They are people just like us whose lives took an unfortunate turn for a variety of reasons. They are equal in God’s eyes to everyone else, and if we call ourselves Christians, we must love them as Christ does. Just as Jesus pointedly said in Matthew 25:31-46, He will judge us by how we treat the least of these on earth.”
Wheeley said he would like to see more churches and individual volunteers join Compassionate Hands and help homeless people in Wilson County.
This is neither complex nor expensive to do,” he said. “All it really takes is a willingness to serve, and we are eager to show you how. There are separate church shelters for men and women each night of the week, the same site each day, so every host keeps the identical schedule weekly, meaning you host 15 times in three and a half months. One site daily is for women, two daily for men as there are more men guests. Right now, we need a host church for women Wednesdays and Thursdays and secondary or overflow hosts for men Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Other nights are currently covered.”
To become involved with Compassionate Hands, call Wheeley at 615-513-9062 or John Grant with College Hills Church of Christ at 615-444-9502.
“We will be glad to meet with you to show how to join this ministry that blesses so many, both the hosts and our guests,” Wheeley said.