FLORENCE, Ala. — Normally this time of year, Room in the Inn Shoals is busy serving Florence’s homeless population at its intake center on Veterans Drive.
This year, signs on the center’s doors show that the shelter program is unable to operate until further notice due to circumstances beyond their control. However, in the same location, Room at the Table is providing meals and warming supplies to those in need three days a week at 6 p.m.
Executive Director Krista Manchester said Tuesday at around 4 p.m., Florence police officers sent people away who were lining up early.
“So they left,” Manchester said. “I was contacted about 45 minutes later by one of the officers by phone, ‘what’s going on?’ I said, ‘had there been complaints, was there a behavior issue, what prompted that?’ And he said, ‘no, no; we’re trying to enforce your sign.’”
Manchester expressed her frustrations about the incident on the Room in the Inn Shoals Facebook page.
She said the signs aren’t a no-trespassing order, merely a suggestion.
Florence Police released a statement Wednesday that explained officers were enforcing the sign in response to complaints within the past week of different types of public indecency where people were seen on the Room in the Inn property having sex and relieving themselves.
“None of that has been communicated to us,” Manchester said. “I was unaware of any of that. I understand the police have a difficult job to do and those are difficult things. They’re not things we support, they’re not things that we want to see happen, but I didn’t know they were happening.”
Manchester said she hoped that police would have noticed that the signs also list the days and times for meal pickup. She said she feels as though the people they serve are being stigmatized.
“Regardless of behavior, regardless of things like that, it’s unfortunate, but these are human beings,” Manchester said. “These are people and trying to demonize them, in a sense, or make them second-class citizens because they’re homeless—that’s just not fair.”
Florence Police said they regret that the matter played out on social media rather than between the leaders of the two organizations. Manchester had a similar response, saying she would have liked to have been contacted before police acted.
Manchester said what happened Tuesday isn’t going to affect future meal nights. She said they’ll continue to serve the hungry no matter what.
On Thursday, Florence Police released body camera video sharing a phone conversation one of their officers had with Manchester on Tuesday afternoon. They released this video after the story aired on News 19 Wednesday evening.