Urban Ministry Center’s Room in the Inn program is entering its final month of the season. The Room in the Inn (RITI) program began in 1996 with a goal of providing a warm, safe, and dry place for Mecklenburg County’s homeless population during Charlotte’s coldest months – December through March. Over 130 area churches and colleges throughout the Charlotte area participate in the RITI program.
Anyone who has volunteered for RITI and interacted with the guests recognizes that another goal of the program is to provide a voice to those we often hear about, but rarely hear from. This is especially important in the soundbite and social media driven society in which we live today. We are constantly confronted by a daily barrage of information that in many ways overwhelms and immobilizes us.
The RITI program provides a voice to those in our community experiencing homelessness and not one filtered through a newspaper article, a blog post, or a tweet. Rather, the actual voice of a construction worker struggling to get to work on time each morning as he navigates the RITI program in a different church each night. The voice of a mother who is desperately in search of permanent housing so that she can get proper treatment for her two teenage children who are suffering from PTSD. The voice of a homeless young man talking proudly about his high school basketball days and the voice of a pregnant woman seeking shelter and escape from an abusive boyfriend. Of course, there are also the scattered and confused voices of guests that are suffering from mental illness and the defeated voices of those facing addiction.
These voices are why I and others are drawn to the RITI program. I look forward to Wednesday nights at my church, Trinity Presbyterian, during the RITI season when I put my phone away, sit down with strangers, and commune the old-fashioned way – around the dinner table using our voices. The people I meet and the stories they tell are not just providing me with information. They are providing me with knowledge and a deeper understanding of the issues faced by those living in poverty, those facing physical and mental disabilities or facing addiction, those whose daily lives are vastly different than mine. With knowledge, we can make a difference. Room In The Inn isn’t the solution to homelessness. It is, however, a vital link to the voiceless faces of those often overlooked in our community.