Marquette is not typically considered a big city, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t people without homes. Volunteers and churches make up Room at the Inn, a shelter that rotates weekly from church to church to give guests a place to sleep and food to eat.
“There are so many people in this county that are so close to being homeless,” said Dave Bonsall, director of the Center for Student Enrichment at Northern and one of the church coordinators at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church. “They have a major issue going on in their life; they’ve lost a job or they’ve gotten divorced, and all of a sudden they have no place to live.”
With over 400 registered volunteers, Bonsall said that there would not be a program without them and contributions from the community; they help guests check in, do laundry, set up and take down the shelter and provide dinner and breakfast daily. Room at the Inn also provides guests with bus tokens and transportation to shelters.
“You get so wrapped up in your own life, your job and everything going on around you. But you get there and it’s such a grounding experience, and it’s just rewarding to know that you’re helping out some people that are very appreciative,” Bonsall said.
Room at the Inn has its own social worker who assists guests through life transitions, as well as helping them find employment and permanent housing. The Warming Center, located in the lower level of Faith In Christ Fellowship Church, is available to guests in the morning and also provides a shower facility.
“Every year now, there have been more and more Northern students that are volunteering as a part of this, and that’s really neat to see,” Bonsall said.
One of these volunteers from NMU is Alex Wolfe, a junior sports science and physical therapy major. He began working at Room at the Inn to fulfill SLFP requirements and continues his services to the program.
“I think it’s a very rewarding experience. I think volunteering is something that everybody needs to do ultimately to be happy, just to be able to help those who aren’t as well off as you are,” Wolfe said.
Room at the Inn has a capacity of 20 people per night, which nearly fills up during the winter. The smaller number of guests allows volunteers the opportunity to get to know them personally, Wolfe said.
“When you volunteer at a place like (Room at the Inn), you really break a lot of the stereotypes of people who might go to a homeless shelter. In all actuality, what you see with a lot of people is that they’re people trying to get on their feet,” Wolfe said. “They are working, they have jobs, but they just can’t afford homes at this time and place.”
In addition to helping out at the churches, Wolfe attends board meetings to get an idea of what they need done. He said he provides students with information about volunteering and encourages them to get involved.
“Students might think that because it is held at churches that it’s a religious organization, but ultimately it is about helping those who are less fortunate than I am. I think that everybody, whether they’re religious or not, can always be a part of that,” Wolfe said.
NMU students are important volunteers, especially because there are shifts that run throughout the night. Someone who is older might not necessarily be able to stay up for the 2 – 6 a.m. shift, Wolfe said, but those work well for college students.
Room at the Inn volunteers must complete a training session prior to signing up for shifts. The next session is on Thursday, Feb. 17 from 6 – 9 p.m. at the Faith in Christ Fellowship Church. Current guest needs include winter gloves and socks for men and women. For more information and church coordinator contact information, visit roomattheinn.org.