Homeless shelter bracing for high numbers

NORTH VERNON — As seasonal temperatures drop, volunteers at a homeless shelter in North Vernon are busy preparing for an expected increase in the need for emergency housing.

“Our numbers were lower during the summer months because the warmer temperatures allowed people to pitch a tent, live in their cars or find some other way to survive,” said Colleen Malone, director of the Wayside Inn Shelter, 304 Hoosier St., North Vernon. “But now they won’t have as many options and they will be coming here for help. We have to be ready and, yes, we can always use some help.”

The Wayside Inn, which first opened its doors to people in need last November, is in need of donations of materials, food and volunteers to be ready for the anticipated increase for emergency housing during the winter months, Malone said.

During the past year, the shelter provided more than 2,100 nights of emergency housing to more than 170 families and individuals. Shelter volunteers also have distributed food and helped develop a network of agencies to assist individuals staying in the shelter.

“We have had a great first year. Since we opened we have had people from all the surrounding counties stay in our shelter. There is just not great gobs of help for the homeless out there so people come to us for help,” Malone said.

As a minister in the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, a chaplain at the St. Vincent Jennings Hospital and a longtime volunteer in a variety of Jennings County help agencies, Malone was acutely aware of the need for emergency housing when she joined the effort to help build a shelter in North Vernon.

Her congregation first rented the old building that would serve as a shelter during the week and also as the site of church services Sunday.

The building, built in the 1890s, was in bad shape and needed repairs. Volunteers came in and helped do the work needed to make the building usable as a shelter, she said.

The Wayside Inn Shelter has no paid employees, and volunteers staff its operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A network of assistance, including The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Centerstone, has helped provide people with clothing, emotional and mental health counseling and other needs, Malone said.

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Requests for services at the Wayside Inn Shelter is increasing, with 12 and 14 guests at the shelter every night for the past two weeks.

The shelter also maintains a food pantry for distribution to people not staying at the center. During the past two months, the shelter has donated food to more than 168 families and individuals. In anticipation of an increase in need as the winter months approach, Wayside Inn Shelter is asking for donations of the following items:

  • Dish soap
  • Coffee
  • 39-gallon trash bags
  • Plates
  • Plastic spoons, forks and knives
  • Paper towels
  • Cups
  • Toilet paper
  • Cereal
  • Canned goods or shelf staple food items

Also, it is asking for gently used or new:

  • Coats
  • Sheets and blankets
  • Socks
  • Sweatshirts/sweaters

Also, leftover food from parties and gatherings is appreciated as there is no working kitchen facility in the shelter.

For more information, call 812-352-7598.