Police have identified the homeless man found dead Thursday morning outside a church in East Nashville.
Authorities said James G. Fulmer, 50, had reportedly been sleeping on a small covered porch near a side entrance of Crystal Fountain Church at South 10th and Russell streets.
The freezing temperatures likely contributed to his death as the low temperature early Thursday in Nashville was 25 degrees.
A friend of the victim said the man had mobility problems, which required him to use crutches.
Wilford Gold was the last person to see Fulmer alive around 3 a.m.
"He had no blanket, no nothing. I went up and hustled $10 to the Family Dollar store to buy a blanket to cover him up with," Gold said.
Gold later found Fulmer's body under that blanket and next to his crutches.
Gold said the downtown shelters were just too far for Fulmer to travel.
"He's on crutches, you know. You can't get to the Mission, but even if he could there may not have been room," Gold said.
Officials estimate Nashville has a homeless population of about 4,000 people, and Metro police along with the Nashville Rescue Mission patrol for homeless people on cold nights.
"We check on them, make sure they're okay. And if they want to go to a shelter, they'll give them a ride," said Metro Police Det. Matthew Filter.
The Nashville Rescue Mission and Room in the Inn are just a few miles from the church where Fulmer died, but on the night he died they were at capacity.
The medical examiner will determine the cause of death, but investigators said there was no evidence of trauma or foul play.
Not enough beds for the homeless
Volunteers were out again Thursday night to make sure no one else suffers the same fate as Fulmer while temperatures were expected to dip back into the 20s.
Ed Grimes, with the Nashville Rescue Mission, was hoping to get as many homeless off the streets as possible.
It's something his organization does whenever the mercury dips below freezing, but finding them isn't always easy.
"They'll huddle inside a corner of a building," Grimes said. "They may get someplace where we just can't find them, and that kind of haunts you."
That may have been the case with Fulmer, whose friends said he was on crutches and couldn't get to a nearby shelter.
"If he needed medical care, we have a medical respite. If he was intoxicated, he could have stayed here last night," said Rachel Hester, executive director at Room in the Inn.
But even if Fulmer had sought help, Hester admits he might have been turned away.
"There's not enough shelter beds in Nashville," she said.
The non-profit works with about 177 congregations to provide emergency shelter and meals for the homeless.
But only 10 to 15 churches pledge to open on any given night, which means there is simply not enough space for more than half of the estimated 4,000 homeless men, women and children in the community.
"Some congregations who took 10 might be able to take 12. Maybe a congregation who's right next door might join forces and be able to do that. But I think every congregation has its unique circumstances," Hester said. "I would love to say that that is the easy fix, but I don't know that that is."
Hester said she would like more congregations to participate, especially during the winter months.
"It could be a simple solution. They already have volunteers. They have heat, electricity and volunteers willing to bring in meals," she said.
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