Earlier this month, the Salvation Army in Johnson City, Tennessee put out a white flag, the signal that extreme cold is on the way and that the shelter is taking in homeless to allow them to escape from the cold. One homeless family learned that the welcome mat was not out for everyone.
Tim Lejeune told a reporter from television station WJHL that he and his wife have lived in their car with their three children, two sons aged 15 and 5 and a 16-year-old daughter. They had slept in Walmart parking lots and a parking lot at the VA, but with a forecast low of 18, Lejeune saw the white flag out at the Salvation Army shelter and took his family there for the night.
He was shocked when he was informed that his older son could not stay there because he was too old to sleep on the women’s side and too young to sleep with the men.
“He said, ‘I’m sorry, your son, y’all can’t stay here, because of his age,'” Lejeune said. “I said, ‘Are you kidding me?”
Lejeune and his family resigned themselves to spending the night in their car despite the bitter cold, but Johnson City police officers came upon them and decided that it was not a good idea. They took the family back to the Salvation Army and attempted to convince them to allow them to stay in spite of the boy’s age, but to no avail.
The officers were determined not to allow them to brave the cold in their car and four of them pooled their money along with money contributed by 911 dispatchers on duty, and took the family to the Johnson Inn intending to get them a room for the night. When they explained the situation to the desk clerk, the motel comped the room for the night and the officers took the money they had collected to buy dinner and groceries for the family, leaving all the cash that was left over with them.
Salvation Army Captain Michael Cox told the TV station that the policy of not taking in boys between the ages of 12 and 16 was a long-standing one and had only been an issue once before. He said that it was to protect the children and that the charity did not have the funds to build housing to accommodate maturing boys. He also told them that with this incident they are looking at the policy to see how it might be changed to avoid another incident like it.
The family has been back at the shelter since then and has spent some cold nights there, but not because of a change in the policy, their older son is now being treated at a local mental health facility after having a breakdown because he felt responsible for his family being turned away the first time.
The Salvation Army has filled the family’s gas tank and provided other help to them as they wait for their son’s release from the hospital and attempt to get their other children enrolled in school.
Watch a report from WJHL in the video below.