Homeless During the Pandemic

How Calvary Episcopal Church and the Hospitality Hub are Working Together 

by Susanne Darnell

Although I am a member of that group described as “vulnerable” who has been isolated here at Trezevant Manor since March 13, I want to share with you what I know about Calvary members and The Hospitality Hub staff serving the homeless in downtown Memphis. Learning this has warmed my heart and given me hope like nothing else! During this pandemic time, I have participated in two virtual Hospitality Hub board meetings, had conversations with Community Ministries Coordinator Christine Todd, and seen many Facebook posts from Calvary Works and the Hospitality Hub. You probably know the many ways Calvary works with the Hub serving homeless persons, such as referrals, Work Local lunches, Emmanuel Meal, Calvary Clothes Closet, Sunday morning’s Community Breakfast. My focus here is on collaboration between Calvary and the Hub during these months of the pandemic.


Before the pandemic, Room in the Inn was coordinating shelter for women at churches, including Calvary. The pandemic interrupted that exceptional program, and on the morning of March 17, 24 women arrived at the door of the Hub, not knowing where they would sleep that night. The Hub stepped up, and Calvary assisted. First Presbyterian offered their dining room, volunteers brought mattresses, and that evening all were sheltered. Calvary’s Room in the Inn donated several of the mattresses; Calvary Clothes Closet provided more than 20 sets of sheets, pillowcases, and blankets. Calvary parishioner Alice Shands arranged the drop-off of these things. Given this situation, the Hub sought help from the City of Memphis, as the few shelters for women were full. They found an exceptional hotel downtown several blocks from Calvary where these vulnerable women, ages 20-70, could shelter-in-place. The City provided vouchers, and in two weeks the Hub moved the women to the hotel. The women still needed three meals a day. Room in the Inn stepped up with a Sign-Up Genius; many congregations responded and continue to provide meals. Calvary Chef Mary O’Brien volunteered to cook two dinners each week. Other parishioners, including Ardelle Walters, Meg Crosby, Greta Heru, Nina Sublette, Betty Jo Dulaney, Terri Dulaney, Mary Nease, Deb Kinard, Hilary Chipley, Laura Rogers, Allison Linnevers, Katie Rogers, Mary Jane Viar, and Mary Dunlap also arranged for meals. And every Sunday morning Richard Hendricks and those who help him with Calvary’s Community Breakfast have prepared breakfast for the women.


As they have from the beginning, the Hub staff of 15 people continues to work 24/7 to meet the women’s needs. They help them each to get the services they need, such as medical appointments, mental health services, stimulus checks, job applications, and permanent housing. The hotel offers an environment that has helped them to bond with the women, build trust, and use their case management skills. Calvary parishioners like Liz Browne, Elizabeth Crosby, Sandy West, Jane Slatery, Juana McCoy, the Rev. Buddy Stallings, the Ven. Mimsy Jones, and many others worked to provide individually packaged clothing items, puzzles, cards for solitaire, art supplies, and toiletries. Calvary obtained sets of new clothes for each woman. The Rev. Audrey Gonzalez and Melinda Menke have supported everyone’s efforts.


When a woman received permanent housing, another arrived to take her place; the number remained about 25. Shelter for women who are homeless is very limited in our city. This is also true for families with children. The Hub stepped up to meet this challenge, too. Twelve homeless families with children, 40 people total, were housed at the Travel Lodge, using vouchers from the Hub. The Hub staff has offered services to them and found permanent housing for many. Because there was no shower or sink downtown for people even to wash their hands, the Hub provided transportation to the Travel Lodge for a few of Calvary’s Community Breakfast guests where they could take a shower and have respite for a night.


With the community gradually opening up, assistance from the City is ending, and hotels will begin to house more travelers. In anticipation of this, the Hub sought a place in midtown that could accommodate 28 women in a safe, healthy environment. A boarding house with 13 bedrooms at 28 N. Claybrook, near Poplar and Cleveland, was found and is being renovated. Each bedroom will have a separate air handler to minimize the spread of the virus. It will be ready to occupy in June. The women at the hotel will move there to continue their journey out of homelessness.


Months before the pandemic began, the number of persons coming to the Hub at 82 N. Second had been growing steadily. Work Local had expanded, and outreach to persons on the streets had been effective in reaching persons not likely to come to the Hub. However, space at 82 N. Second was inadequate, and the board of the Hub decided to seek another location. The first phase of a new facility at 501 Washington is almost complete; a plaza will welcome unsheltered persons while construction continues on the building. A shelter for women was part of the plan from the beginning, and a recent modification of that plan will increase the size of that shelter and draw upon what has been learned from the pandemic and about trauma-informed care. The plaza will open in June. The remarkable collaboration between Calvary Church members and the Hospitality Hub will continue to make God’s love visible in downtown Memphis.


If you would like to help with Calvary’s support of the Hospitality Hub, please contact me, sbdarnell@me.com or ctodd@calvarymemphis.org. Please join Calvary Works and Hospitality Hub, if you are on Facebook.