A Tennessee Salvation Army location has said it is reviewing its emergency shelter policy after it turned away a homeless family on a cold night because they had their teenage son with them.
Fortunately, now the family is enjoying an outpouring of support from the local community. Tim Lejeune, the father of the family, said he expects they will all be back on their feet soon.
Lejeune told WJHL last week that he had been living in his car for weeks with his wife and three children when they decided the temperature was going to drop enough that they needed to find a warm shelter.
They turned to the Johnson City Salvation Army, which was flying a white flag, the organization’s signal that the emergency shelter was open due to weather conditions.
Lejeune said he was shocked when the shelter told them they couldn’t stay. “He said, ‘I’m sorry, your son, y’all can’t stay here, because of his age,’” Lejeune told WJHL. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“They said he’s too old to stay on the women’s side, because of the women running around in their pajamas and they said he’s too young to stay on the men’s side in case some pervert wants to do whatever,” Lejeune said.
Local police tried to negotiate with workers at the shelter but were unsuccessful.
That’s when the officers pooled together some cash to get the family a hotel room for the night. When the management at the nearby Johnson Inn found out what the officers had done, the hotel gave the room to the family for free. The police officers then used the cash to buy the family some groceries.
As news of the family’s plight spread, others also lined up to help.
Sarah Wells, of Good Samaritan Ministries, was once homeless herself. When she heard a news story about Lejeune’s family she sprang into action.
Good Samaritan Ministries secured the family a hotel room for a week. The organization also got a social worker assigned to the family for nine months and is working on getting them an apartment with the help of federal grant money .
“Everything is looking up,” Lejeune told WRBL. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”
He said his whole family was very thankful for the community’s support.
Salvation Army Captain Michael Cox said the shelter’s policy was put in place to protect children. It prevents teen boys, ages 12 to 16, from staying in the shelter.
“It was an unfortunate situation altogether, because we did not have the facilities to put that family in place,” Cox said.
Cox said the policy had only been a problem one other time in the last decade.