American Inn in Washington

Rooms at the hotel, located at 1715 E. Fifth St., will be used to provide temporary overnight housing to people without homes when temperatures fell below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Fahrenheit with precipitation.

A collaboration between several local organizations has helped 27 homeless people in Washington get out of the cold so far this winter.

Rooms at the American Inn, located at 1715 E. Fifth St., are used for temporary overnight housing for people without homes when temperatures fall below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Fahrenheit with rain or snow. 

It’s a program launched by a partnership involving the hotel, Mercy Hospital Washington and the Franklin County Community Resource Board.

Washington Emergency Management Director Mark Skornia, who assists with the program, said a donation drive by the Franklin County Community Resource Board last year provided funding for the program. 

“It was successful enough that we have funds left over for this year,” he said. 

From November 2020 to March 2021, the organization raised $73,911. The Franklin County Community Resource Board uses the funds to pay the American Inn $35 per room.

To receive a room, a person must go to Mercy Hospital Washington where they are evaluated and, if appropriate, given a voucher for a room, Skornia explained. They can stay there for the night. During the day, if they still need somewhere to stay warm, they can go to the Washington Public Library.

So far, 27 different people have been helped since the program began for the year on Nov. 22, according to Brett Alley, director of public safety for Mercy Hospital Washington, as well as the system’s hospitals in Jefferson and Lincoln counties.

Many of the 27 people have come for beds multiple times, he said, but less so than most years.

“Last year, we had a lot of repeat people,” Alley said. “This year, it’s been a lot of different people. Now, we have had some repeat folks, but it’s interesting. There’s been a lot of new folks that have needed help.”

Alley said every day at 3 p.m., Mercy’s communications department reaches out to the National Weather Service and that’s how they determine whether it will be cold enough to open the hotel rooms. 

With the unusually warm weather in November and December, the program hasn’t been available as many nights as usual. However, it’s still early in the season, Alley said, and the warming center can often stay open as late as April, depending on the weather.

“Everybody that’s involved is there to help those folks stay out of the cold and not have to be out during that extremely cold weather,” he said. “And I think that’s really something to be proud of from a community standpoint.”