During the cold winter months, about a dozen Lake Norman churches turn into temporary shelters for the homeless. These churches invite their guests to a warm bed, hot meal and Southern hospitality through Room in the Inn, run by the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte.
Participating Lake Norman churches include Bethel, Christ Community, Davidson College Presbyterian, Davidson United Methodist, Hopewell Presbyterian, Huntersville Presbyterian, Huntersville United Methodist, Lake Forest, Grace Covenant, Mt. Zion, St. Mark Catholic and St. Patrick Episcopal. The Lake Norman YMCA and Davidson College also participate.
RITI director Paul Hanneman says that churches do not need huge facilities or congregations to host. Some of the 135 participating Charlotte churches host as few as six guests, and some host only one night per month.
Besides the start-up costs of air mattresses or cots and bed linens, the main infrastructure required is manpower. RITI volunteers provide dinner, breakfast and a sack lunch. Some spend the night with the guests; and some pick up the guests in the evening from the Urban Ministry Center and drive them back in the morning.
“What we really ask our hosts to do is provide hospitality and relationships of dignity and respect,” Hanneman said.
Hanneman said that Urban Ministry Center’s ultimate goal would be “for Room in the Inn to go out of business because there would be adequate housing for everyone.”
But until that day, RITI churches will be needed to house Mecklenburg County’s 2,418 homeless, counted in the 2013 North Carolina Point in Time report.