Room at the Inn zoning concerns for winter

Zoning concerns at Room at the Inn Shoals

FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - A Florence non-profit is worried a zoning dispute will leave the city’s homeless population out in the cold this Winter.

Room at the Inn Shoals typically calls on its church partners to help house the homeless during the winter. However, due to COVID-19, the organization is running into an issue with its backup plan.

Across the Shoals there are 204 homeless people, some in transitional housing and some with no home at all.

Room at the Inn Shoals steps in on those below freezing nights to provide a warm place for people in need.

“Providing shelter and food feels like a very minimum thing to do, but homelessness is complicated. It’s not fixed with one band-aid, but every winter making sure no one froze to death,” said Executive Director Krista Manchester.

This year, the organization is hoping to open its intake center on Veterans Drive as a place of refuge. The idea is that fewer churches would be exposed in the event of a positive COVID case.

“We came up with an emergency plan to keep people here at our intake center where they stay for a few hours and we’ve kept them here in the past and then our churches would come here and sort of host here. That way we weren’t spreading COVID and the different things that were going to make it difficult,” said Manchester.

However, there is a problem. A zoning problem, according to Florence mayor elect Andy Betterton.

“The issue is this. That space is zoned industrially. Its a light industrial zone,” said Betterton.

Betterton said the salvation army is an option which holds up to 50 people safely.

But there are still a few lingering questions.

“This winter is going to be a problem. We will try to figure it out, but what is the long term solution?” said Manchester “The city continues to push the salvation army as the only solution, but if it was a good fix then why do we still have a problem?”

Mayor-elect Andy Betterton said he is interested in finding a solution. He said he plans to meet with organizers of Room at the Inn and the Salvation Army.

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