By Todd Cohen
ASHEBORO, N.C. — A group of churches in Randolph County are taking turns providing homeless people with shelter and meals during the cold-weather months.
A project of Christians United Outreach Center in Asheboro, the new Room in the Inn initiative already has enlisted roughly a dozen churches, with First United Methodist Church in Asheboro hosting the effort for a week starting Oct. 18.
Other churches are “sitting in the bleachers and would like to make sure the program’s going to be run well and people screened appropriately,” says Jerry Hill, executive director.
To participate, homeless people can visit the Outreach Center at 135 Sunset Ave. for screening and, if referred to Room in the Inn, transportation to the host church.
Initially, each church will host the program for a week, either opening their doors to the homeless or making space available in a house that Central United Methodist Church has made available to the program.
The program, to be staffed initially by the Outreach Center and volunteers from each host church, will be able to house up to 15 or 20 people at a time, providing them with two meals a day and a warm place to stay at night.
And the Outreach Center will provide assistance to help program participants who want it to “get past barriers that are keeping them living on the streets,” Hill says.
The center, which has received a special grant of $2,500 from United Way of Randolph County to help cover startup and administrative costs, also has applied for a two-year federal grant of $120,000 to create a transitional housing program for homeless families.
The grant would be used to hire a transitional-housing coordinator and pay expenses for an individual to take part in the program for up to two years.
The program would provide living space for four to six families at a time in rental properties, and would cover the cost of rent, utilities and some living expenses.
The center also would provide training in financial independence, and assistance in paying bills.
“The thing that would make this work is their interest in moving beyond their current situation,” Hill says.
The Room in the Inn initiative also may help local officials get a better sense of the number of homeless people in Randolph County, Hill says, a population estimated at several dozen or more.
Formed in February 1994 by the Greater Asheboro Ministerial Association to address unmet community needs, the Outreach Center last year provided short-term services for more than 30,000 facing financial crisis.
Those services include a pantry that gives away food and items such as soap, shampoo and paper products, and loans donated medical supplies such as walkers, crutches, wheelchairs and commodes.
The center, with an annual budget of $1 million and a staff of three full-time and four part-time employees, also generates revenue from a thrift store it operates that sells donated clothing, furniture and other household items.
And the center provides budget counseling and financial assistance that helps clients pay for rent, mortgages, utilities, medicine and car parts.