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Ida Smith made a collage at Room at the Inn on June 2. Catholic parishes and churches of various denominations have switched from providing a night shelter to clients of Room at the Inn to offering financial support to allow the organization to expand programs at the day site in Bridgeton.
Ida Smith made a collage at Room at the Inn on June 2. Catholic parishes and churches of various denominations have switched from providing a night shelter to clients of Room at the Inn to offering financial support to allow the organization to expand programs at the day site in Bridgeton.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Parishes aid Room at the Inn’s efforts during pandemic

Shelter for homeless women, families adjusts with congregations’ contributions

Homelessness continues during the coronavirus pandemic, but Room at the Inn is doing its part to keep women and families in a safe place.

A network of interreligious congregations, including 21 Catholic parishes, helps the ministry serve the community. The congregations aren’t able to take the clients in the evening because of social distancing and stay-at-home requirements. So the congregations switched gears and made financial contributions to Room at the Inn to provide the food and staffing that the churches formerly provided at the night sites.

Anyae Drake dug a hole to plant zinnias outside of Room at the Inn on June 2. The garden activity was part of Room at the Inn’s hands-on activities program called Quest, a badge-based educational incentive program.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
David Weber, the executive director, said the financial assistance is essential in keeping people overnight at the day site in St. Louis County. “It’s just the heart of the parishioners and the churches to help us get through this,” Weber said. “It’s very heartwarming.”

Founded by the Sisters of Divine Providence, Room at the Inn operates a temporary, emergency shelter from its central location, where under normal circumstances clients are based during the day, and 52 night sites at congregations throughout St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Currently, all clients are staying at the day site exclusively.

Kathy Costello of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant has coordinated her parish efforts with Room at the Inn for five years. The volunteers understand the importance of community outreach to neighbors in need, she said, while “putting a face on the reality that people in our community are homeless. We are realizing that we are called — Jesus told us to care for those in need.”

The program, she said, is powerful for the volunteers because of its hands-on assistance. In March when the parish wasn’t able to host people on its usual fourth Friday of the month because they needed to stay at the day site, parishioners knew it was still important to support Room at the Inn in the good work they do, Costello said. “All of us who’ve been part of the program really miss it. If we can support them financially, we certainly will do that, and we look forward to hosting them personally again.”

Room at the Inn empowers participants to create solutions to their homelessness through education, referrals and case management. Approximately 150-200 clients are helped per year, including single mothers with children, single women, two-parent or single-father families. The program has a capacity of 20 clients per day.

Weber said the program is cooperating with the St. Louis County Department of Health on when to reopen night sites or to take new clients.

A hands-on activities program called Quest, a badge-based educational incentive program, is available to all the children. Quest boosts character traits such as responsibility and teamwork. “It talks about how to incorporate those things into their life,” said Cindy Warren, volunteer coordinator.

On a recent afternoon, children at Room at the Inn, joined by some homeschool parents and children who are part of Quest, planted flowers and made collages with a theme of joy and peace. One of the children, Anyae Drake, said she enjoys the activities, adding that it’s the first time she’d made stepping stones, created tie-dye T-shirts and more. “It’s fun,” she said.

Outings are on hold, for now. In the meantime, a donation funded bicycles, locks and helmets that will arrive at Room at the Inn soon courtesy of the Manchester United Methodist Church Bike Rehab.

Staying at one site during the pandemic brought comfort to the clients, Weber said, but there’s a value to the interaction with the congregations that they’re missing. “In the summer some volunteers at a church will bring their children. Some of the churches have wonderful playgrounds, and they’re all out there together. It’s very, very nice.”

St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Brentwood partners with Webster Groves Christian Church and Immaculate Conception Parish in Maplewood at the Webster Groves church. Janice Heuther of St. Mary Magdalen Parish said the overnight guests have set goals and are working on a path to housing and a better life. The approach the hosts use is one of friendship, Heuther said. “There’s no judgment. It’s just pure love. The volunteers are blessed as much as they are blessed by us.”

>> Night sites

Room at the Inn partners with 52 interreligious congregations which serve as night sites. In addition to overnight shelter, these groups provide clients with transportation to and from their house of worship, dinner, breakfast, and fellowship time.

• 21 night sites have served 15+ years

• 16 religious denominations represented

• 2000 annual volunteers

• 30,000 hours served per year

Catholic parishes in the partnership include: All Saints in St. Peters, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Christ the King, Holy Name of Jesus, Holy Redeemer, Holy Spirit, Immaculate Conception in Arnold, Immaculate Conception in Maplewood, Our Lady of Presentation, St. Clement of Rome, St. Cletus, St. Ferdinand, St. Gerard Majella, St. Joan of Arc, St. Joseph in Manchester, St. Mary Magdalen in Brentwood, St. Monica, St. Norbert, St. Peter, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.

>> How to help

Donate to Room at the Inn at www.roomstl.org or send a check to Room at the Inn, 3415 Bridgeland Dr., Bridgeton, MO 63044.

For information or to volunteer, contact David Weber, executive director, or Cindy Warren, volunteer coordinator, at (314) 209-9198.

A pastor’s perspective

Father Michael Murphy, pastor of St. Ferdinand, said that “in the darkest of moments the Gospel needs to be put into practice.”

Despite struggles from the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest, he said, “you find people who are worse off than ourselves. I’ve asked people to be generous with the Annual Catholic Appeal and Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In these moments especially, the hardest times, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed not just in words but in deeds, to take care of our brothers and sisters who are worse off than they were before.”

St. Ferdinand is one of the parishes that serve as night sites for Room at the Inn. While the parish is not able to open its doors to Room at the Inn clients at this time because of the coronavirus pandemic, they can offer financial support, Father Murphy said. “The parish is very good about making sure that support continues.”

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