Room In The Inn homeless shelter soldiers through hard times

By on January 22, 2018

Room residents shovel a path at The Source Church.

Every holiday season millions of us watch one or more versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

The story is more about the self-discovery and redemption of protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge.

A prominent feature of the story is the plight of the homeless in mid-19th century London. Dickens’ other characters make a point of emphasizing that while the Spirit Christmas often opens the hearts, minds and wallets of the more fortunate among us, the point is also made that these people are a constant in Dickens’ London.

Advertisement

And so it seems fitting that just before Christmas we sat down with Renate Macchirole, the first operations coordinator of the Outer Banks Room In The Inn, the only local charity dedicated solely to serving the homeless population.

The program has seen its ups and downs. The most drastic was a 2015 violent altercation between two temporary residents at a Duck church, resulting in one fatality.

It was a traumatic event not only for the hosting church, the Room in the Inn guests and the program volunteers, but also for the community as a whole.

To the great credit of this resilient community, Room in the Inn and its network of churches and other groups never ceased operations. Instead, the incident was a catalyst for improved security and better cooperation and communication with law enforcement.

The setback kept the charity out of the public’s eye for a time. Having made use of that time to strengthen the program, the Room in the Inn team and advocates are ready to get back into the limelight and make progress toward supporting their client base in becoming part of the fabric of the community that has been so generous to them.

Advertisement

“The success and forward movement of Room in the Inn is due to the tireless efforts of its committed and talented Board of Directors, Intake Coordinators, local Churches and the dependable gifts of so many who volunteer their time, talents and other badly needed resources,” Machirrole said.

“It takes a village as the saying goes and most guests who utilize the support of Room in the Inn share the common desire of giving back and becoming more integral and contributing members of their community,”

Machirrole stands on the porch of Room In The Inn’s new office in Manteo.

As one guest put it, “We want to show the community who we are as people … not as just someone who is homeless …”

Advertisement

“Room in the Inn provides a haven to a multitude of talented individuals, some of whom may require additional supports, encouragement and patience to achieve and maintain long-term success. Some also just need to be provided with an employer willing and able to make some compromises regarding past legal infractions.” Machirrole added.

We visited with her and two residents at their new intake center, which for the first time is in its own space, in Manteo at 827 U.S. 64.

The new space allows the group to more easily process new clients as well as give those they serve a place to be during the day.

Macchirole provided a short history of the organization.

“It was started in 2008-09 with two people, Gail Leonard and Claiborne Yarbrough, recognizing a need for homeless shelters in our area. Without those two, there would be no Room in the Inn,” Macchirole said.

Leonard remained on the board until 2017, and she still contributes significant time to the organization, according to Macchirole, who credits Leonard with the group’s survival over the past decade.

In 2017, the group served about 30 homeless people, and over its history, 333 individuals have benefitted from Room in the Inn’s offerings.

A typical client is accepted to the program through an intake process each day from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Manteo headquarters.

The new location allowed Room In The Inn residents to celebrate with a Christmas dinner where they decorated themselves, adding to the feeling of having a place they treat like a home.

From there, the group is taken by van to one of 17 local churches that provide space for mattresses and cots. The various churches rotate their participation, each making a one-week commitment.

Residents are not only given a place to sleep indoors, but are fed dinner, provided with an early breakfast, and given a bag lunch for the day before being discharged around 7:30 a.m.

Each church provides overnight volunteers (typically one male and one female) and some churches even have shower facilities.

Here, the acquisition of the new headquarters has made a major difference in the lives of their clients, in Macchirole’s eyes.

“Before, when released in the morning, the homeless we served went back onto the street until we reopened in the late afternoon. Wandering around homeless during the day only reinforces the homeless mindset we’re trying to overcome, so the situation was not ideal,” Macchirole said.

Now, residents come back to the Manteo location, where they perform chores, work on lining up job interviews and make appointments for needed medical care. Those with jobs but still not at a point of being able to afford housing work during the day and return at night.

One of the goals of RITI is for guests to become contributing members of the community by volunteering their time and talents.

On a typical night, five to nine residents will require overnight shelter, and during the day, two to seven people might be found at the Manteo office performing chores or working on finding a job.

After the Duck incident, Room In The Inn also implemented security changes and tighter rules for participants.

“The Big Five Rules are No Drugs, No Alcohol, No Violence, No Sex and No Profanity,” Macchirole said.

In addition, public records checks are run on all new intakes. Before transportation to a church, all belongings are turned in at the Manteo office. Personal belongings individuals are allowed to take with them are stored in clear plastic containers for easy inspection.

Room In The Inn also notifies local law enforcement whenever a church in their jurisdiction is hosting residents, and the group is working one-on-one with all local law enforcement to help educate police officers on the nature of their mission and what to expect from the people served by the group.

Macchirole is also reaching out to the community to find other ways to train and keep those she serves off the streets during the day.

She is hoping to see some students enroll at the Dare Campus of College of The Albemarle and plans to meet with college officials shortly. She is also working with the Manteo-based Source Church to interact with those she helps.

The Source Church emphasizes work with the part of the community trapped in the cycle of substance abuse, and as Macchirole notes, homelessness and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand.

Another industry where Macchirole sees a chance for her clients is in the food service industry and she hopes to find a training and employment for the homeless in the restaurant business.

Funding for the group comes from several sources, including grants and donations from churches, foundations, businesses and individuals. Dominion Power recently awarded a $5,000 grant. Several groups and churches provide funding annually and there are a growing number of private donors.

The group also has a fundraiser each year. This past year’s took place at Sugar Creek Restaurant on Dec. 15, featuring chefs from 17 restaurants and live jazz music.

The group is organized as a non-profit corporation Thee current board consists of President Nancy Griffin, Vice President Donna Bissell, and Carol Copeland from Dare Social Services, who is the secretary. DuWayne Gibbs, William Gib Harrison, Lynda Wood, Wayne Barry, and Terry Jones round out the rest of the board. This is also the third season that two part-time intake workers, Jeff Frame and Amber Pittman, have helped staff the program.

While we were on site, we spoke to one resident, Noah, who allowed us to use his real name.
Noah grew up in eastern North Carolina, primarily Carteret County.

He is bright, articulate and if you saw him on the street, you would not think he was a homeless person. Clean cut, polite, and dressed like any other Outer Banker on a slightly cold day.

But he is without a place to live and he related how he landed at Room In The Inn.

He has roots in Dare County, and when his father, a Manns Harbor resident became ill, Noah came to the Outer Banks to take care of him.

“I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m an alcoholic. I had trouble keeping a job,” he says.

Noah thought he had kicked the habit, but after losing a contracting job — he told us he is a very good carpenter but can do almost any construction-related work — where he claims “he was screwed by a contractor,” he began to drink again.

He didn’t spend a lot of time going over the details of how he felt he was wronged by his former employer, except to say it has happened twice.

He was more interested in relating that he understood he had a problem that was his to fix, and how much Room in the Inn had helped him.

“I was here two years ago and it helped me stay clean and when I relapsed, I showed up on Thanksgiving Day and have been clean for three weeks. My goal is to stay that way, get back on my feet, find a job and get a place of my own. I’m already doing some construction work with other people who have used Room in the Inn, and I think it has helped me get through this recent problem.”

When asked how many other people are homeless on the Outer Banks, Noah says there are a lot more than the dozen that are currently using the services.

“I know more than a handful myself. The problem is they won’t come here, not because of pride, but because of alcohol. They won’t put the bottle down and they can’t come here if they don’t.”

Anyone with open eyes is well aware the homeless population here is far bigger than the numbers helped by Room In The Inn. They can often be seen riding bikes, pushing carts or pitching tents in vacant lots. In summer, many sleep on the beach.

Which is reason enough for this organization to be placed back in the limelight and to receive the financial and volunteer support needed to help combat a problem that costs more to ignore than to acknowledge.

For more information about Room in the Inn and its services, contact Renate Macchirole at 256-0347.

Comments

  • runnerguy45

    Great article. I wish the best for this program and it’s people.

    Tuesday, Jan 23 @ 9:30 am
  • Mary Lamm

    Thank you to the people who started this much needed program and to the churches and volunteers who house and feed the homeless. I heard more than one guest at Room in the Inn call Gail Leonard an “angel”… and that she is.

    Wednesday, Jan 31 @ 7:53 am
Recent posts in this category