By Ritchie Starnes, News Editor
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 —
Should the Christmas season stir a desire to give back, then The Community Inn has plenty of need for volunteers.
Part of Stanly County’s Homes of Hope, The Community Inn is a nonprofit dependent on private donations as well as public assistance, mostly by United Way. The Inn, 510 S. First St., Albemarle, provides emergency housing every day of the year.
The Inn serves an average of 10 visitors per night, which fills the facility’s existing beds. Otherwise, guests are relegated to cots or inflatable mattresses.
“I’ve had as many as 25 people in one night,” said Diane M. McClinton, director of Homes of Hope.
More women and children rely on emergency housing than in the past.
“I think because the word on the street is that it’s a safe place,” McClinton said.
“I think it’s the economy, too.”
Women and children have a separate living quarters than the men.
Many of the guests are repeat clients, but more new ones are on the rise. Between the opening of the Inn in September 2009, through Dec. 4, the shelter has served 384 new clients. Eighty new guests have shown up within the last 10 months. Since its opening, 13,495 beds have been used for overnight stays, McClinton said.
Stanly’s only emergency housing facility relies on an annual operating budget of $250,000 and four staffers, McClinton said. So volunteers and donations are critical to its success.
Many in the area help in a variety of ways.
Stanly Community Christian Ministry provides the Inn with a rent-free facility. It also feeds many of the homeless and the community’s needy at The Community Table, adjacent to the Inn.
As many as 50 area churches lend assistance in one way or another. Families, businesses, colleges, students, civic groups and individuals contribute in other ways — donations of needed items, services, money, and/or time.
Will Weski, 33, is a frequent weekend volunteer, a time when volunteerism is most scarce.
“He’s got a great heart for it,” McClinton said.
Weski said he is motivated to help because he has been on the other end of needing the generosity of others.
“I lost a job a couple of years ago. With the help of family and friends I was able to find a job,” Weski said.
“A lot of people down there (Community Inn) don’t have that kind of support. Someone needs to be there for them.”
Connie Goins said she believes it is God’s way to lend a hand. Her downtown GloryBeans CoffeeHouse provides the homeless a place to go for coffee or simply another venue to stay when the shelter is closed.
“We’re supposed to help the less fortunate,” Goins said.
“We’re all called to help. Everybody needs a hand up and to be loved.”
Because of the community’s support and a set of strong, enforced policies, the Inn maintains the necessary structure conducive to an environment of dignity.
“If you can’t verify you’re homeless, you can’t stay here,” McClinton said.
Visitors are subjected to a breathalyzer since guests cannot be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They are searched with a wand to detect for concealed weapons. No sex offenders are allowed. Visitors are subjected to a background check, McClinton said.
In-county residents are allowed to stay at the emergency center for as long as 120 days. Outside the county residents are limited to only three nights, McClinton said.
The Inn opens at 6 p.m. and closes at 7 a.m. daily. Visitors are allowed to register for a night’s stay at opening, but no one is allowed after 8 p.m. unless accompanied by an official, such as law enforcement, doctor, clergy, etc.
“If someone knocked on the door at 10 (p.m.), cold and hungry, we’re not going to turn them away,” McClinton said.
“You have to have policies, but we’re compassionate people.”
Just because a client is admitted one night does not guarantee another night.
“People have to bring what they’ve got and take it with you the next morning because there’s no guarantee you’ll have a spot,” McClinton said.
In addition to clean beds, the Inn is stocked with donated toiletries and assorted items. Mornings include breakfast foods. Guests are allowed to shower.
Meals are coordinated 60 days in advance, to ensure those in need receive a meal and that providers are aware of their call to service.
Efforts are under way to expand The Community Inn by 500 square feet that allows enough beds to accommodate 25 potential clients.
During the renovation, First Lutheran Church will provide temporary housing for the Inn’s clients.
What few staffers work at the Inn log long hours there. The Inn is in dire need of volunteers.
Duties include: staff assistance with guests arrival, stay overnight in the event of emergencies and to help staff the following morning, laundry, provide meals, special projects, etc.
The greatest time of need is Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday for all types of services.
Volunteers should be at least 18 years old. Those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Other welcomed volunteers include counselors, nurses, doctors, finance professionals, hair dressers, barbers, manicurists and musicians for entertainment.
“People don’t think of that (entertainment),” McClinton said.
“And during the holidays, we’d love to have carolers to stop by after 6 (p.m.) so the guests can enjoy Christmas songs during their meal.”
Interested volunteers should contact McClinton at (704) 984-6454, (704) 982-3634 or stanlycommunityinn.director@ gmail.com.
Call Ritchie Starnes at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28 or email ritchie@stanlynews press.com.