The Living Room is a city-funded program to help people on the worst day of their lives.
Adults in crisis show up under the soft blue light on Magazine Street to receive the kind of bare necessities that are easily taken for granted: shampoo, toothpaste, a cool place to sit and a warm conversation with someone who understands you.
That blue light shines all night, a beacon letting potential clients know the room is always there.
In under two years, the Living Room has already served thousands. But last week, Metro Council passed a budget that eliminates funding for the new program.
Inside the door, down a flight of stairs, clients walk in the living room. It’s a modest space, with tables, chairs, a couple of TVs, a stack of DVDs and board games. In the corner, on a recent weekday, a woman sleeps on a couch with a towel over her face.
When people have nowhere to go, the living room offers its clients services to help them deal with whatever crisis they’re facing. Sometimes, that’s just a place to rest, or a phone to use. Other times, the Living Room helps connect them to services, offer basic toiletries and a team of specialists who are not only certified, but they’ve been through their own crises, so they get it.
“So it’s a crisis diversion program. Folks who are experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues or homelessness have the ability to ring the doorbell 24 hours a day, come in and stay up to 23 hours.” said Stephanie Pond, unit manager.
The program started in November 2017 and it’s already helped thousands of people. So Pond said it was a surprise to learn the program might be on the chopping block.
In April of this year, Mayor Greg Fischer announced he wanted to close the Living Room as one of many cuts in the proposed budget.
“While we’re eliminating funding for the Living Room, because of its per visit cost of $500, we are investing over $1 million in homeless services,” Fischer said.
Last week the city passed the budget and the Living Room is closing for good, on July 31st. Where will these people go?
The Living Room has been surveying its clients. They found 79 percent of the 2,500 people who responded said they would have stayed on the streets if not for the service.
One of the peer specialists, Shavon Thompson, explains the intake forms where they ask these kinds of questions. One question simply reads “What do you have?”
“That’s the way for us to sneak in the hope a little bit. Because usually when you tell them, oh you can do better, they don’t want to hear that,” Thompson said.
She said there were probably 10 people here last night, and there’s maybe another half-dozen coming and going Friday morning — the day Fischer signs the budget.
Last month, Thompson found a woman overdosing in a bathroom. She’d already turned blue, but Thompson was able to wake her up and get her help.
“That was like a month ago. And like I said I’ve been doing this for almost six years. That day is the day I fully understood why God saved my life. Why I do this. Why I work in this field,” she said.
But when that blue light dims over the door outside the Living Room, Thompson said she’ll make the sure the light continues to shine.
“I have a light to give back the same way the light was passed onto me. I have a light to pass onto others.”