Room In The Inn (RITI) has just resumed for the 2013-14 season. Founded in 1996, Urban Ministry Center coordinates RITI during the coldest months of each year, providing emergency shelter for those experiencing homelessness. The program relies on the time, talent and resources of nearly 5,000 volunteers from 130 houses of faith, YMCA’s, colleges, and other organizations. It’s one of our many basic services filling critical needs for the homeless.
Jermaine Gilmer never dreamed his family would need something like RITI, but shortly after arriving in Charlotte last February he was informed that the housing he had arranged would not be available. He took his wife and two small children to a motel, but their savings quickly dwindled to nothing as they searched for affordable housing. RITI provided a place for their family to stay together and helped them buy some valuable time. Jermaine was able to find work, but when RITI ended on March 31st, the Gilmers still had no place to go. They were forced to split up. Jermaine stayed at the Men’s Shelter, while his wife Alicia, Alex & Allie headed to the Salvation Army Women’s Shelter.
They would meet at UMC, enjoying lunch at the Soup Kitchen—a family again. UMC brought other opportunities. The Gilmers began working with Mecklenburg County Social Worker Megan Coffey, at UMC. Megan helped them find and secure affordable housing. They have now been in housing for almost five months! It’s not easy. They are still only scraping by, but they are together under their own roof and that is empowering.
An important support system for the Gilmers has also been the RunningWorks family they’ve come to know and love at Urban Ministry Center. Like many, the family was enticed by the promise of their own running shoes. Each participant has to show up four times before the shoes become their own and by that time they are hooked on the supportive, energetic group. The program has been transformative for the Gilmers’ mind, body and spirit. Both Jermaine and Alicia lost weight, with Alicia losing over 100 pounds!
Their son Alex is an amazingly focused 4 year old. Last August he learned to pace himself and ran the entire OrthoCarolina 5K—beating his mom. Shortly after mastering the 5K, Alex announced that he wanted to go to school. RunningWorks founder Meredith Dolhare went to work, securing funding and a slot for him. Of course he’s kicking butt in pre-K!
Alicia got a rematch with her son in October, when she (dressed as Batman) beat her own 5K time by 17 minutes, and finished before Alex (dressed as Spiderman). And in November she ran the Thunder Road Half Marathon — her weight loss and stamina are so inspiring!
Empowerment is what we see in the Gilmers. Jermaine is providing for his family. Alicia is more fit than ever. Alex is focused on learning, and Allie is free to be the little girl she deserves to be.
This is our hope for all of our neighbors experiencing homelessness. We hope the services and the love shown by UMC staff and volunteers will empower people to change their lives. To be safe and stable, and housed.