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Operational Changes A Success

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On July 2, Urban Ministries of Durham launched an innovative new weekday schedule to meet our guests’ needs more effectively. The key innovation is concentrating our cafe, food pantry, clothing closet, and emergency shelter check-in at the beginning of the business day, rather than at scattered times during the day.

To make this possible, we changed our Monday-Friday lunch service from cafeteria style in the middle of the day to a more convenient packed lunch that guests receive during breakfast, 8-9 a.m., to take and eat wherever their daily business may lead them. This frees guests to spend the day looking for housing or a job, working, pursuing education, or connecting with community services and benefits. For breakfast and dinner and for weekend lunches, our menu, serving times, and staffing didn't change. All meals are still available to anyone who is hungry.

Concentrating services saves guests trips to UMD, as a person can now receive several services in a single visit. This is crucial for our guests, who typically walk or rely on public transportation. It was often inconvenient or impossible under the prior schedule for a guest to visit us for breakfast, take a bus across town to a job interview or other opportunity, and then get back to UMD on the bus before lunch ends at 12:30. Now, she’s able to visit UMD at 8 a.m., eat breakfast, receive a bag lunch, take the bus wherever she needs to go, and not have to return to our campus until dinner. A food pantry or clothing closet client can arrive at 8:30 a.m., eat breakfast, pick up a bag lunch, then go straight to the lobby for pantry and closet intake, which begins at 9 and is finished by 11.

The same goals underlie the changes to shelter check-in for overnight guests. We have shelter intake only twice per week, Monday and Thursday, and we’ve moved the intake time to 9 a.m., right after breakfast. We now check in short-term shelter guests for a full week at a time, rather than just a single night. (We still accept referrals from other agencies any day we have available beds.) This saves each person the hours they would have spent standing in line daily, alleviates their worry about where they will sleep tomorrow and the day after, and allows them to focus for full days on longer-term priorities such as permanent housing, employment, overcoming barriers to stability, and connecting with community resources. So, a homeless man who needs shelter can come to UMD on Monday morning, have breakfast in the café, receive a bag lunch, and then check into our shelter for a full week. By 10 a.m., he has the whole work week ahead of him and knows where he is sleeping every night and where all his meals are coming from. He returns to UMD between 6:45 and 7:45 p.m. for dinner and checks into the shelter between 7-8:15 p.m. to sleep in his reserved bed.

Though this was a big adjustment at first, operations are running more smoothly, and clients are making excellent use of the services and the extra time the new schedule gives them. That is, the innovations accomplish the goal we exist to serve: moving people from homelessness and crisis to stable homes of their own. Thank you for being part of this vital work.