CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Wednesday afternoon, churchgoers at Mount Carmel Baptist Church got some of their spare space ready for a group of homeless neighbors, spending the night.
“When they’re out on the street, you see [homelessness] from a distance” Shirley Austin says. “But when it comes through your house, you can see it differently, then.”
The church is one of about 100 groups part of “Room in the Inn,” a program that opens churches’ and other organizations’ doors to people who do not have a place to stay when it gets cold outside.
“Having to sleep outside in a tent, it kind of gets to your heart,” Austin says. “A lot of times it actually makes you want to cry.”
Volunteers like Austin say when their visitors arrive on these cold nights, they see the effects of the weather on the men, women, and children who come through their door.
“The rough skin, and the chapped lips and the hair matted to their heads,” she says. “You can see all of that stuff up close and personal.”
A survey funded by the Mecklenburg County Community Support Services and conducted by UNC Charlotte Urban Institute done in the winter of 2018 counts more than 2,106 people experiencing homelessness in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area.
It also counts a shortage of 109 beds at one-night emergency shelters. The same survey recognizes, that number is likely higher during months Room in the Inn is not operating.
“When you sit down and talk with people, and they’re not just a number, it’s just not a social issue, this is people’s lives,” Pastor Casey Kimbrough says.
Kimbrough says for his church, the program matches real faces, and stories, to the issue members of the congregation hear so much about.
“Many of our [homeless] neighbors don’t look the way we think they’ll look,” he says. “Some persons are working, and trying to support families.”
Now, his church and others will house some of those neighbors through the end of March, and they are hoping other churches will open their doors, too.
“Once you get to sit down, eat with them, talk with them, you’ll find that they are people who have had real problems and misfortune,” Austin says. “And they’re just out there because of difficulties in life.”
People interested in the Room in the Inn program can click here for information on how to get involved.