By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice on November 21, 2020
There have been some difficult times for the OBX Room in the Inn in recent years. Founded in 2009, the organization has always worked with local churches to offer temporary housing and services to the area’s homeless.
Back in 2015, there was an argument between guests at a church that led to a fatal stabbing. Health concerns made it necessary for executive director Betsy Kelly and Board President Nancy Griffith to resign earlier in the year. And this year, COVID-19 came, and suddenly churches were no longer available to offer housing because of social distancing and cleaning requirements.
Perhaps even more devastating, because of COVID restrictions, churches could no longer hold in-person services and without services, there were no collection plates and no money to contribute to Room in the Inn. That’s part of the reason that new Executive Director Mike Jones said he inherited about a $35,000 budget gap when he took over that post few months ago.
Challenges notwithstanding, on Nov. 15, Room in the Inn began its 2020-2021 program, one that will run through the end of April thanks to a $5,000 grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation. In the past, the organization usually ended its housing program in the first week of April. https://www.obxroomintheinn.org/
Typically, Room in the Inn helps between 25 to 30 homeless men and women during the cold weather part of the OBX year, providing desperately needed shelter as well as freshly cooked meals. And it begins its new season with new leadership, a new housing facility and a new plan for managing and tracking those who use its services.
The changes will be significant.
Realizing they could not accomplish their mission of housing their guests in churches because of the stringent COVID requirements, Room at the Inn is renting a facility in Nags Head.’
Jones, who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in social work, points out that the new housing facility has made closing the budget gap more difficult, saying, “It’s a beautiful facility. But that’s been an extra cost.”
Having its own facility to house its guests, though, opens up possibilities that were never possible in the past. “Our long-term goals are to extend the season, even possibly year-round,” Jones said.
The organization is also renting an office in Kill Devil Hills to handle guest intake and case management.
The ability to provide regularly scheduled case management services to its guests may be one of the most notable changes at the organization. In the past Room in the Inn was unable to provide that type of service.
And although the financial challenges are significant, the organization is getting some help from its friends.
“The churches that can help have given donations. We’ve gotten a lot of individual donations, ranging anything anywhere from $50 to $5,000. It’s easing up,” Jones said.
For her part, Room in the Inn Board President Tracy Ryder sees an upside to the challenges of 2020.
“We are looking at this COVID pandemic as unfortunate, but as an opportunity. It’s giving us an opportunity to shelter in one location, versus moving from church to church, as we’ve done in the past,” she said.
“I think the churches actually like what we’re doing now,” Jones said. “The heads of churches have spoken to me and said it’s kind of a relief that they’re not having to house the guests.”
Being able to house their guests in one facility, rather than having to move them around, has also created opportunities to work more closely with the people staying at Room in the Inn and help them move forward with their lives.
“We want to be transitional…We want to guide people or at least point them in the right direction to get them back on their feet,” Jones said.
With an office for intake and a permanent place to take their guests, the organization has also implemented strict intake guidelines.
“We go through an extensive intake process we do a background check. And then we do a nationwide background check on each person, as well as the breathalyzer,” Ryder explained. “And if they have a felony conviction, they have to be a non-violent felon.”
A structured case management program is something that Room in the Inn has not been able to implement in the past because their guests were moving from place to place. And Ryder said Jones is the right person at the right time to implement the new program.
“We have a more structured program this year due to Mike, so that’s been wonderful,” she said. “We feel we will be able to get the people that have been in the system longer, we will be able to get them out of the system.”
“What we try to do, we try to reconnect these people with their families. And if that’s not an option, then we try to help them get back on their feet,” she added.
There is a fundraiser for Room in the Inn coming up Dec. 6, sponsored by Mike Kelly. 300 tickets for sale at $20 a ticket. It’s a drive thru lunch. Pick up is at Kelly’s Catering.