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The hottest months of the year are approaching, so it is time to crank up air conditioners, turn on the fans and lay out by the pool… right? Not if you are among the homeless living in Fort Worth. Volunteers at the University Christian Church are beginning their third year assisting the homeless during these unforgiving summer months.
A program called “Room in the Inn” offers 10 people a night of food, shelter and good company. “The point of this [program] is to make them feel human again,” said Leslie Dell, director of UCC’s Room in the Inn program, “because when you’re in that situation— you’re invisible.”
Room in the Inn began 24 years ago in Tennessee; it spread to University Christian Church in 2008 and is now offered by eight churches in Fort Worth. It is offered during the coldest and hottest months of the year, December - February and July - August. UCC hosts 10 guests every Wednesday during these months. Participants are offered a bed, a bag of toiletries, family-style dinner, breakfast and a sack lunch.
“The guests are really pretty tired,” Dell said. “That was surprising to us because by 7 p.m. many have already crawled into their beds. They are just so happy to know they can sleep somewhere and not worry that someone is going to steal their stuff.”
UCC hosts 10 guests at a time to maximize the feeling of fellowship, “We do more intimate groups,” Dell said, “because on the street they’re invisible; people don’t look them in the eye, people don’t talk to them…we are a listening ear.”
A common Room in the Inn night consists of games and story telling but according to Dell, there have been some pleasant surprises from past guests.
“One was a piano player and another a chef. They’re just real people,” said Dell, “and to stop and think ‘yeah that really could be me.’ It only takes one medical thing to wipe out your savings — who knows! So it’s been a real eye-opening experience.”
Volunteers from all ages participate in the program. Those who want direct contact with the guests must complete a sensitivity training session, however, there are plenty of jobs for those who do not complete the training.
“A volunteer could help with the preparation and clean-up of the beds, meals and toiletry bags,” Dell said.
Dell’s favorite part about participating with Room in the Inn is, “meeting a lot of people I probably would have never met. I love the camaraderie of the volunteers and their level of caring.”
“You can put a face with the homeless and talk to them and see they’re human… when it’s easy to look the other way,” said Dell. The volunteers involved gain a new aspect on the homeless and see them in a different light.
To find out how to get involved with UCC and its Room in the Inn program visit www.universitychristianchurch.org.