Monday is an important evening for the women living in the shelter at the Jubilee! Community.
From 6-7:30 p.m., they break bread at the dining room table while they have “table talk.” It’s an opportunity to discuss the issues in their lives and collaborate on rules to make staying in their temporary home, the Jubilee Alternative Micro-Shelter, more hospitable.
JAMS is the brainchild of volunteers Melanie Robertson, formerly the interim director of family ministry at Trinity United Methodist Church, and Amanda Kollar, a Trinity parishioner. The organizers call JAMS a “microshelter” — a classification not officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — because it purposefully serves a small group. Kollar says JAMS can host 10 women at a time but has found eight guests to be optimal.
The shelter operates on Jubilee!’s ground floor at 46 Wall St. and comprises two large rooms, a kitchen and two bathrooms. There’s a sprawling sectional, a dining room table decorated with a bouquet, a coffee table and artwork on the walls; the bedroom area has six mattresses but can fit a few more. Tucked in the corner is an office area with two computers, a printer and bulletin boards featuring job postings. There are tables for art projects, books, a TV and a piano, all of which contribute to the homey atmosphere.
“It’s been really great,” says Krys Kaczynski, a JAMS guest who is finalizing paperwork for her own housing. Her dog, Bear, is also being fostered by a JAMS volunteer. “When I was sleeping outside, it was very scary.”
Coming to JAMS
In November, Robertson and Kollar began working with community members to organize a volunteer-run Code Purple shelter at Trinity United Methodist Church for nights when the temperature was freezing or below.
TUMC hosted a Code Purple shelter in its all-purpose room numerous times throughout the winter to provide safe sleeping space for homeless people who wouldn’t fit into other shelters in Asheville, because they owned pets or were part of a couple or family.
The official Code Purple season ended March 31. But Robertson and Kollar say seven women the TUMC shelter had served had not yet been placed in permanent housing, so they reached out to contacts in Asheville’s faith community. With the blessing of Jubilee! Administrator Bruce Mulkey to use his facility’s downstairs at no cost, JAMS opened April 18.
JAMS has acquired a temporary shelter permit from Asheville’s Development Services Department. Ben Woody, the department’s director, explains that the JAMS permittance is for a temporary overflow emergency shelter. Its typical use is for facilities providing space during Code Purple and permits sheltering for up to 20 people. JAMS’ permit allows it to operate the shelter continually through November.
The volunteers “are hoping JAMS will remain open and that other faith communities will join the microshelter model,” Kollar says.
A temporary home
Referrals to the shelter come from Transformation Village at Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, October Road Inc., RHA Health Services and the Sunrise Community for Recovery and Wellness. Either Robertson or Kollar interview each new guest about her history and needs. JAMS seeks specifically to house women who have an income, are close to finding housing and do not abuse substances.
Guests share a communal bedroom where each mattress is separated by a divider. The evening’s nighttime volunteer, a church or community member who ensures the shelter’s lights-out rule is followed, has an adjacent bedroom space in a partitioned area. The volunteer’s bedroom space also serves as an office for Kollar and Robertson.
Arden Street Ministry from Arden Seventh Day Adventist Church drops off meals to JAMS on Fridays and Saturdays and donates paper goods. Many guests go to Western North Carolina Rescue Ministries at 225 Patton Ave. for lunch, dinner and food boxes. However, guests at JAMS appreciate that they can cook in the shelter’s kitchen and store food in either of two refridgerators.
“These ladies have some funding coming in — there’s Social Security, there’s [electronic benefit transfer] — and they would like to cook for themselves,” explains Kollar. Kaczynski, a JAMS guest since April 21, says she’s made taco salad and meatloaf.
The word “alternative” appears in JAMS’ name with intention: The organizers want the microshelter “to be steeped in radical self-care,” Kollar explains, gesturing to a handwritten list on the wall in the dining room titled ‘Self-Care Evenings.’ It lists meditation, yoga, a grief group and getting hair cut or styled as ways the women can care for themselves. Some services are being donated, such as a trauma-informed yoga class taught by Cat Matlock from FreeBody Therapeutic Massage Clinic.
The shelter doesn’t have a washing machine, dryer or showers. But guests can take a sponge bath in a bathroom sink at JAMS or walk to Homeward Bound of WNC’s AHOPE Day Shelter at 19 N. Ann St. to use their shower facilities.
Room In the Inn
In some ways, JAMS is a practical and spiritual continuation of Room in the Inn, which ran in Asheville from 2001-20. Three local pastors brought the program, hosted by faith communities nationwide, to Asheville. Homeward Bound of WNC took over operations for its final 10 years and provided temporary shelter to 434 women during that time, says Eleanor Ashton, the nonprofit’s senior resource development director.
Room in the Inn “was used to provide a 12-bed shelter for women who would stay in a faith community for a week at a time,” explains Emily Ball, the city of Asheville’s homeless services system performance lead. Volunteers from that faith community staffed the shelter, transported guests to AHOPE, provided food and sometimes contributed haircuts or clothing.
“Room in the Inn has always created such wonderful opportunities for folks across our community to provide hospitality to people who don’t have housing in a way that recognizes and honors their fundamental humanity,” Ball continues.
When Room in the Inn ended at the beginning of the pandemic due to concerns over social distancing, faith communities still wanted to help their neighbors. “Jubilee was looking for other ways to be of service, and we eventually began a collaboration with local advocates for the homeless, jointly creating JAMS,” Mulkey tells Xpress via email. “To paraphrase someone much wiser than me, first you pray for the homeless, then you house them. That’s how prayer works.”
Adds Ashton, “It feels appropriate for Trinity United Methodist, Jubilee! and perhaps other faith communities to investigate starting a Room in the Inn microshelter, especially if it will be low barrier. Homeward Bound is available to assist in any way we can.”
Robertson and Kollar envision microshelters operating similarly to Room in the Inn, but with a twist. Instead of guests rotating to different houses of worship each week, the new temporary shelter model would have a centralized location for guests to stay, with volunteers from different faith communities rotating their visits.
Robertson notes that microshelter volunteers are not trained as mental health professionals or addiction specialists. But she says friendship, mentorship and support are often enough.
“We’re not officially caseworkers,” she says. “But we’re still trying to find resources and services that will help these ladies get to the next step.”
‘All hands on deck’
Buncombe County’s 2022 point-in-time count, in which officials try to count everyone who is experiencing homelessness on a single night in January, found that homelessness had increased 21% from 2021.
“I think this is an all-hands-on-deck time,” says Ball with the city of Asheville. She says she appreciates how Kollar and Robertson have a “willingness to jump in and learn as they go.”
The two women rely on other volunteers; men are allowed during the day, while only women may volunteer overnight. But they’d like to increase the volunteer pool to 20 people. Interested parties can contact Kollar at Amanda.Kollar@gmail.com.