Neighbors using Room In The Inn (RITI) this season ranged in age from 5 months old to 89 years old, and that’s really the story of RITI and our community. As affordable housing continues to be out of reach for so many, we are seeing increased numbers of families and older adults.
A single man arrived with his 7-month old son, overwhelmed with being a first-time dad, but our neighbors, volunteers, and host sites rallied around him and helped him adjust to being a single parent. Our Neighbor Services team was able to connect him to Community Link for housing and ensured he was able to access child care resources so that he could start looking for work.
A warm and gentle older woman came to RITI and although very gracious, her eyes told the story of her tiredness. Her spirit alone made our team eager to work with her. She walked into counseling director Michella Palmer’s office with tear-filled eyes and simply said “I need help.” She had a section 8 voucher but could not find a property that would rent to her with the voucher. As Michella promised we would find something, she replied, “I will live anywhere. I just can’t keep living like this”. Our team was able to find her a place to call home and now she is working part-time and focusing on her continued upward mobility.
In fact, together the Neighbor Services and Street Outreach team housed 41 individuals during the RITI season, from December 1 – March 31. This is something to celebrate! However, there were 1,494 guests of the program during the season, a number that persists each year, a volume that UMC could never serve alone.
Our thanks to the 106 hosts sites who drove to our campus uptown to pick up neighbors, provided them with a hot meal, a safe and warm place to sleep, and priceless fellowship. We hear countless stories from hosts about personal connections and the support they provide to neighbors including a volunteer who came back at 4:45am to help a guest get to work on time; impromptu birthday celebrations for children; the replacement of ripped shoes with brand-new, purchased just for you, shoes to ease foot pain and return a smile to someone’s face.
These small acts of kindness and direct support are the foundation of what is needed for neighbors who do not have access to housing. We thank you for helping those with the fewest opportunities and often the greatest challenges.
I had just finished posting this blog when the story below arrived in my inbox. The anonymous writer offers her experience from an evening volunteering for Room In The Inn and reminds us how we learn from, and love, each other.
A Single Story of Impact
The impact of Urban Ministry Center’s Room In The Inn (RITI) Program is impressive. This season, there were 16,407 beds provided thanks to the RITI program, which means 1,494 guests received a hot meal and shelter. That’s 1,494 men, women, and children who were able to avoid sleeping on the street or in a car or tent during Charlotte’s coldest months. While the numbers are always important in showing impact, this story is not about the stats. It’s the story of the impact of one Room In The Inn experience.
I have a friend who’s an alcoholic. It’s hard to care about and be friends with an alcoholic. The disease transforms them. They lie, they manipulate, they yell and get angry, and seemingly do everything they can to protect their addiction, despite your efforts to surround them with support. These common symptoms of alcoholism are often the reason that alcoholics end up alienating themselves from their support systems, only to be left alone to sink further into the abyss of self-destruction.
My journey and frustration with my friend had reached its peak in December and I had decided it was time for me to take a step back. Fed up with my friend’s lies, exhausted by her animosity towards me, and upset with her unwillingness to get help, I decided to give our friendship a break. I did so knowing that she would continue to drink and that there weren’t many people, if any, who would check in on her.
In the midst of this decision to walk away, I met a gentlemen at Room In The Inn who changed my mind. We sat and talked while eating lasagna and brownies and he told me about his own addiction to alcohol. He proudly told me that he had been sober for 9 months. I told him about my friend and how frustrated and worried I was, and how I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t get the help she needed. I then confided that I had decided to walk away and take a break. He put his fork down, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t give up on your friend. God put you in her life and is working through you to get to her.” He went on to tell me that he was not kind when he was drinking and that he had someone in his life who stuck with him and didn’t give up on him. “It took me a while to hear my friend’s voice,” he said, “but once I did, I got help and it has made all the difference in my life.”
I thanked my new friend for his insight. He thanked me for treating him like an equal. My new friend was one of the guests at our church experiencing homelessness. He was close to getting back on his feet and into a home. He said that he loves Room in the Inn, not only because of the shelter it provides, but because you get to sit around the dinner table and talk with folks from different backgrounds. Then, he very poignantly described the humanity of the Room In The Inn Program. He said, “Uptown, I feel ‘less than’ as I walk around people like you. But, here I feel equal because we all share similar problems.”
The impact of Room In The Inn is so much more than the story told by the numbers. It’s thousands of stories of impact from individuals who joined in fellowship as equals. As Maya Angelou so eloquently states in her poem Human Family, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
After taking the advice I received that night at RITI, I decided not to give up on my friend. She continues to wage a battle with alcohol, and I continue to be a voice of support in the hopes that one day she will hear it.