Homeless find a place at the Winter Inn


Photo Credits to Saint Louis University

Over a decade ago, Teka Childress founded the St. Louis Winter Outreach program after she encountered a homeless man trying to stay warm near a bus stop on a freezing night. She gave him blankets and offered him help but he refused it. Despite calling the police and bus driver, asking them to keep an eye on the man, Childress found out the next day that he had passed away from exposure to the bitter cold. 

These tragic events inspired Childress to found the Winter Outreach program, which has expanded throughout metropolitan St. Louis. Different outreach groups drive around areas of St. Louis, and they pick up those living on the streets then bring them to different churches and faith-based organizations where they stay through the night. St. Francis Xavier College Church has been hosting the homeless at the Winter Inn on Wednesdays and Thursdays for seven years now.

When the homeless arrive to the Inn, they are greeted by the volunteers and are brought to dine with the volunteers. Anne Osdieck, volunteer coordinator, said, “After they eat, the students usually play games with them like cards, uno and chess.” After this, they go to sleep in the cots that are set up for them. In the morning they get up and enjoy a home-cooked breakfast. 

The students that volunteer at the Winter Inn benefit from the opportunity because they are able to establish personal relationships with the visitors. In fact, Osdieck said, “Most of the homeless people that are in the shelters are not that far removed age-wise from the students.” Because there is not a wide age gap, the experience is especially eye-opening for the student volunteers. 

The Winter Inn runs from Dec. 1 to March 1 on nights when the temperature drops below 20 F including during SLU’s winter break. Nicole Neisen, freshman, said, “I think it’s a great opportunity to give back to the St. Louis community and support those who are in need.” 

Students are given an opportunity to see and learn about the harsh realities that many face in their own St. Louis community. Students can get involved and volunteer at the Winter Inn by reaching out to Tess Sanders, at [email protected] to learn more about their program and sign up to volunteer. 

All volunteers involved in the Winter Inn can find meaning in the volunteer experience, whether it be through eating, playing games, or simply just talking to the visitors and hearing their life stories. All are warmly welcomed to come and be a part of the Winter Inn here at SLU.

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