Davidsonians Making A Difference for Homeless Neighbors
For more than two decades programs at local houses of worship in Davidson have been hosting neighbors in need of shelter. The program called “Room in the Inn” was started at the Urban Ministry Center in Charlotte. The program typically operates from December through March and relies on the support of organizations around the greater Charlotte-Mecklenburg Region. The organizations provide meals and a warm, safe place for the guests to spend the night.
The Davidson College student who created the program at Davidson College Presbyterian Church (DCPC) was Liz Clasen-Kelly. She came to Davidson thinking that she wanted to be a high school math teacher, but an internship changed all that. She applied for and earned a Stapleton-Davidson Internship with Urban Ministry Center. “The Urb” had just started the Room in the Inn program. Clasen-Kelly came back to campus determined that Davidson students and the wider community had a role to play in this program.
She went to the DCPC Session, the decision-making body at the church, and made her case. One of the members of the Session was Dr. Lunsford R. “Richie” King – a Davidson math professor. Not only did Clasen-Kelly convince the Session to support the program, she convinced Dr. King to be its most-dedicated supporter and program coordinator – a role that he has held for more than two decades.
Meanwhile, Clasen-Kelly continued working with homelessness services. In July 2016 she was named Executive Director of the Men’s Shelter in Charlotte. In 2019 the Men’s Shelter announced its merger with Urban Ministry Center and that Clasen-Kelly would serve as the CEO of the merged organization. The new organization is called Roof Above.
The organization had to call the critical Room in the Inn program to a halt at the outset of COVID-19. The announcement cut short the final weeks of the annual program. Coordinators in Charlotte worked diligently to find alternate housing options for those in need.
This fall, Roof Above reached out to groups and organizations that normally participate in the Room in the Inn program to discuss a variety of options. In coordination with local health officials, coordinators determined that the normal program could not be conducted and meet the stringent COVID protocols needed to protect guests and hosts. Consequently, there was considerable effort behind the scenes to set up safe alternative housing options for the winter months.
Days ago, Clasen-Kelly sent out an email to make a big announcement. She announced that Roof Above had purchased a local hotel located at the Clanton Road intersection of I-77. Local media received a longer, more-detailed press release and a number of local news outlets covered the story.
News of Davidson realized that Clasen-Kelly’s journey began in our town. We reached out to her to see if her experience at Davidson is connected with big events like announcement of the acquisition of the hotel.“When I was a student at Davidson, I saw our community come together to provide shelter through Room in the Inn by converting existing spaces. We are excited to carry through that spirit of innovation to reimagine existing space for a more impactful purpose.”
That hotel will provide immediate, emergent housing for those in need this winter. And next summer, a construction project will turn the hotel into a permanent supportive housing location. The rooms will be turned into apartments, and support services will be located on site.
Davidson residents and college students have made a difference in the lives of thousands of neighbors in need over the past decades. Hot meals, warm beds, and much-needed caring and compassion are in even greater need this year, and Roof Above’s acquisition of a hotel will be transformational in this time of exceptional need.
With any luck, next winter the program will be back “to normal” and will look like this: Members of the community can be joined once again by Davidson students to bring this critical local effort back to life in our town. The scholar-athletes on the Davidson football team will be back and can volunteer their time to set up and break down the 12 beds at the DCPC Congregation House. The youth of Temple Kol Tikvah will be back and making hundreds of toiletry kits – enough for every guest for the entire 16-week season. Members of Gethsemane Baptist Church will be back – offering to drive their church bus to pick up guests in Charlotte. And hundreds of volunteers from across the community will be back: cooking delicious meals, serving as overnight hosts, washing all the linens and towels, and doing countless other tasks that make this program possible. This is the profound hope of all of these volunteers and organizations.
It is important to note that there we have local neighbors who have become housing insecure in Davidson, through no fault of their own in the COVID crisis. Local houses of worship and other organizations work closely with Davidson Housing Coalition and Ada Jenkins Center to provide services and housing, whenever possible. If you know of someone in need, please refer them to a local house of worship, DHC, or Ada Jenkins. And if you can donate your time, talents, or financial support – please do so.