Finding Second Chances and Room at the Inn
“I want people to understand that homelessness is real and can happen to anyone,” says David Weber, Executive Director of Room at the Inn, a temporary, emergency shelter program for homeless women and families in the St. Louis region. “There’s a stigma attached to the homeless, but not everyone is to blame for their situation. Many have lost jobs, become downtrodden, and many more are victims of abuse. COVID-19 has shown us how tenuous our security can be and how one crisis can become a disaster.”
Since 1993, Room at the Inn has been a refuge and restart for single mothers with children, single women, two-parent or single-father families. Started by the Sisters of Divine Providence – which sponsored the program until 2018, when it gifted the building in Bridgeton to the nonprofit – Room at the Inn serves about 200 clients a year, housing 20 at a time. The shelter was chosen to receive a YouthBridge YEP grant this year to fund the purchase of school and tutoring supplies for children in the program.
“We try to create some normalcy for the children, get them enrolled in school if they’re not already, as well as provide tutoring and mentoring,” says Weber. More than food and shelter, Room at the Inn works with each family on a plan back to self-sufficiency. Since the vast majority of clients are dealing with trauma, abuse or some form of mental health problem, he says the road back often begins with counseling. “Again, there’s a stigma, and we have to convince some of our clients that healing must first take place inside. We certainly don’t want a cycle of abuse to continue.”
A typical stay at the shelter is 45 days, during which residents receive classes in financial management, parenting, job and other life skills, along with referrals to other human services agencies as needed. A main goal is moving clients into permanent housing, and Room at the Inn assists with placement as well as the required security deposit and first month’s rent.
Some may need to stay longer, such as Ida, who came with her teenage son and had a lot of things to work out, according to Weber. But, showing great responsibility, she became a housemother to the others during her stay and eventually a part-time employee of Room at the Inn, now living independently with her son. She also now sits on the Board of Directors. “There’s not a timeframe or template that works for everyone. It’s about helping them each find their strengths and skills to survive in the world.”
While programming takes place at Room at the Inn during the day, one or two of 50+ Night Site partners – church congregations from across the area – step up to provide an evening meal and safe place for clients to sleep at night. The church partners then serve breakfast and transport clients back to the location in Bridgeton in the morning. “We’ve relied on this generous outreach from the beginning to help the shelter operate efficiently and provide our clients companionship from some really loving volunteers,” says Weber.
Unfortunately, with churches closed due to COVID, Weber says the shelter has had to reorganize in order to stay open 24/7. “It’s been a strain, but our partners have continued to support us financially, and we’ve even been able to place three families in permanent housing during this time,” he says. “Our clients all have a story of courage and survival. I suppose Room at the Inn is living out its own right now.”
If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.