During the weeknights of July and August, Jerry Simpson trades sleeping outside in a tent for a mattress, a fresh pair of clothes and homemade meatloaf.
Simpson, 57, said he has been homeless for about nine months. As Fort Worth swelters in triple-digit temperatures, Simpson has an opportunity to escape the heat through Room in the Inn, an interfaith collaboration among congregations in Fort Worth that provides overnight shelter to single men experiencing homelessness.
“From the time that you get here to the time that you leave, they treat you like family,” Simpson said.
Room in the Inn is a hospitality coalition made up of 13 congregations across Fort Worth. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and other Christian churches provide overnight shelter to single men experiencing homelessness on weeknights every week during the summer months of July and August and the winter months of December, January and February.
A priest in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1985 started Room in the Inn after he began inviting people he saw sleeping in the parking lot of his church to spend the night inside the church’s cafeteria. The Fort Worth effort started in 2007 by members from Broadway Baptist Church and St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. The Fort Worth coalition coordinates with True Worth Place, a day shelter and resource center owned by Presbyterian Night Shelter, where men prescreen and register to participate in the program.
“The shelters are wonderful, but they need to house as many as they can, and so, men who are overnight at the Presbyterian Night Shelter are in bunk beds,” Mike Tyson, president of Room at the Inn, said.
Tyson has been involved with Room in the Inn for 10 years and leads St. Stephen Presbyterian Church as hosts on Tuesdays.
How to help
It takes about 30 volunteers per congregation to fully facilitate a Room in the Inn night. If you are interested in setting up meals, cleaning, transportation, fill out the contact form located in the Room in the Inn website.
If there is a specific congregation that you would like to volunteer at or make a donation, contact information for all the host congregations can also be found on the Room in the Inn website.
“Our experience is pretty much the antithesis of what they get at the shelters,” Tyson said.
True Worth provides those experiencing homelessness laundry facilities, a mailing address and other resources. Tyson said that Room in the Inn is not a solution to ending homelessness, but believes having small groups of men spend the night at a church helps build a sense of belonging to a community.
“This is one of the best ways to put our faith into practice,” Tyson said. “But we try to let churches know or congregations know that we do not evangelize at all.”
Though spending the night staring at the tall stained glass windows can get some of the men curious about the church or even share their own faith journey, Tyson said.
“We find that many of the guys we host are much better versed in the Bible than we are,” Tyson said. “So we’re happy to do that, but it’s just something that they need to be comfortable bringing up.”
The setup for Room in the Inn can vary between congregations, but generally, it consists of a group of volunteers coming to the church at about 3:30 p.m. to dress beds in clean sheets and blankets. The volunteers from the church drive to True Worth Place and pick up the men and take them back to the church, where they are greeted with appetizers of cheese, crackers and fruit. At about 5 p.m. is when everyone sits at tables and shares a home-cooked meal made by the volunteers.
Peter Nelson, the director of community ministries and partnerships at Broadway Baptist Church, helps lead their Room in the Inn night on Mondays. For Nelson, it’s all about the little details.
“For us, it’s an opportunity for relationship building and getting to know people,” Nelson said. “Doing nice things like they wouldn’t normally get such as placemats.”
Tablecloths, placemats and glass plates line the dinner tables where the men and volunteers sit together to eat homemade meatloaf, roast turkey, and sides like mashed potatoes and green beans.
After dinner, the men have the option to get some rest, watch a movie and chat with the volunteers. The next morning the men have breakfast and are carpooled back to True Worth Place.
Simpson is Christian and he said spending the night at Broadway Baptist Church takes him back to his childhood memories of going to church with his grandma in East Texas, and keeps him hopeful for his future.
“I do have faith as small as a mustard seed,” Simpson said, “so I’m keeping my head up.”
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.