Other Voices

Meeting the faces of homelessness makes it real for congregations

Homeless people sleeping under the overpass on East Lancaster Avenue in March.
Homeless people sleeping under the overpass on East Lancaster Avenue in March. Star-Telegram archives

In our community, the reality of homelessness remains largely hidden and relegated to the East Lancaster Avenue corridor. Unless we travel to that area of Fort Worth, it’s easy to dismiss the faces of homeless people.

But, for the past eight years, homeless men and women have found a hospitable overnight welcome in area houses of worship during the hottest and coldest months. It’s through a ministry called Room in the Inn.

Room in the Inn began in Nashville in 1987 as a way to offer a warm and welcoming respite to those on the streets. Nashville became the model for similar initiatives in 20 other communities in the U.S. and Canada.

Fort Worth is fortunate to be one of them, since 2007.

People experiencing homelessness are screened by the DRC (formerly Day Resource Center for the Homeless). Volunteers pick up anywhere from five to 15 overnight guests and offer them food, fellowship and a comfortable place to sleep in their churches.

Some of these guests have experienced financial, relational or vocational setbacks, while others are chronically homeless.

At our last homeless count in January 2015, volunteers tallied 1,914 homeless people in Fort Worth. As with most staggering statistics that paint overwhelming pictures of poverty, the facts and figures become real once one encounters someone personally affected.

Room in the Inn brings faces, names and stories alive through conversations in safe and hospitable places at churches around our city.

While homeless shelters on East Lancaster offer crucial programs and services for hundreds of people, Room in the Inn affords unique opportunities for personal interactions and conversations.

Over a cup of coffee or a game of cards, guests and volunteers share stories about their lives, their families and their struggles. People who are homeless are also human.

These relationships help create a more compassionate Fort Worth. By definition, compassionate means that we “suffer with,” that we walk alongside those who are struggling and offer both our empathy and our ears.

That is why for my congregations and 20 others in our area, Room in the Inn is a central part of our outreach ministry: Bridges are built, relationships are formed and welcome is offered.

After each session of Room in the Inn, it is difficult to determine who is more “served” by the experience. Volunteers consider this ministry life-transforming; guests express that it provides hope and motivation.

To celebrate the presence of Room in the Inn in our city and to invigorate more faith communities to become involved, the Room in the Inn Nashville founder, the Rev. Charles Strobel, a Roman Catholic priest, is coming to Fort Worth on Oct. 14.

He, along with Rachel Hester, executive director of Room in the Inn Nashville, will train and inspire new and veteran volunteers in Fort Worth during two sessions that day at First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth.

We are proud to participate in Room in the Inn and proud to be a part of what makes Fort Worth a compassionate and caring community.

The Rev. Robyn Byrd Michalove is associate pastor of mission and family ministry at First Presbyterian Church, Fort Worth.