Cold weather shelter prepares to open

Lindsay Robins
Staff Writer

First Presbyterian Church of Newton is providing an invaluable resource in the winter for people experiencing homelessness in the form of an emergency shelter and they need volunteers to help keep the shelter available to community.  

When the temperature drops below twenty-five degrees, First Presbyterian opens their doors to the community as an emergency shelter. The shelter program is called Room in the Inn, RITI for short. RITI is volunteer run and organized through various shifts and responsibilities. It takes at least six volunteers and two meals for the shelter to open.

The volunteers are scheduled for one of three shifts, two volunteers per shift. The first shift, known as “hens”, opens the shelter in the evening and stays until 10 p.m. when the next shift arrives. Hens are responsible for checking guests in, serving the dinner meal, and helping guests store their belongings in a safe place for the evening. After dinner, guests have the option to watch movies, take showers, rest, or spend time with other guests and volunteers. The next shift, known as “owls”, is responsible for the overnight hours. Owls spend the night with guests in the fellowship hall and maintain order of the shelter. The final shift, known as “roosters”, arrives at 6 a.m. to relieve the owls and serve breakfast. The roosters are also responsible for cleaning up and preparing the fellowship hall for the Seniors Morning Out program. The meals are sometimes prepared by the volunteers working the hen and rooster shifts but most often they are prepared by other volunteers who drop them off at the church.

The shifts and meals are all scheduled through Kim Berry, Office Manager for First Presbyterian. When the forecast shows the temperature dropping below twenty-five degrees, Berry will send out an email to participating volunteers showing what shifts and meals need to be covered to open. Volunteers will respond with how they will be able to assist and Berry will then send out another email with completed schedules for the nights the shelter will be open.

The shelter has been operating in this manner for ten years and has served the community well. There are twenty-five to thirty active volunteers that keep the shelter open year after year, providing a warm and safe place to for three to twelve guests on any given night. The average number of guests in a night is five. Depending on the winter, the shelter may only be open a handful of nights for the whole season or it may be open frequently throughout the season. The winters the shelter has opened frequently has caused some fatigue in shelter volunteers. Early forecasts for this winter show a colder than usual trend and volunteers are anticipating the need for extra volunteers.

“If for any reason where you stay is inadequate to the cold, come on over”, shared First Presbyterian’s Reverend David Roquemore. “If you think this is something [volunteer] you want to do, call us up and we’ll get you plugged in with somebody who knows the ropes. If you know somebody that needs a warm place, send them over. If it’s that cold, we’ll be open.”

There are no requirements to be a guest. Anyone that is experiencing homelessness or inadequate heat resources are welcome to spend the night at the Room in the Inn. However, for the safety of guests and staff, anyone behaving in an unsafe manner will not be allowed to stay.

For anyone interested in volunteering with Room in the Inn, contact Kim Berry at 828-464-0648 or