Cincinnati, Ohio has a large homeless population, a situation common to all large metropolitan areas. On any given day, 1500 homeless people, 1/3 of them women and their children, need help.
The Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a national program that began in New Jersey in 1988. It is based on the idea of religious congregations forming a network and collaboratively caring for some of the homeless families with children in their community.
IHN is a major commitment by this congregation to be "part of the solution." IHN houses families inside the Temple for a week at a time, approximately six times a year. Each week requires 60 or so volunteers and hundreds of volunteer hours to make it a success. This program has continued for ten years with enthusiasm and dedication from the congregants. Because it is often so difficult to find housing for homeless families, IHN is specifically designed to help families.
The week begins on Sunday morning after religious school. Cots and pillows have been dropped off at the Temple from the Day Center. The first crew of Temple volunteers cleans out classrooms (one classroom per family) and sets up the cots. (All the linens have been donated by congregants and washed by another crew of volunteers.) Guests arrive around 5:30 p.m. The number of guests varies from week to week. A typical week would be four or five families. There are many young children.
Two or three cooks bring in the dinner each night and stay to eat with their guests. Other volunteers come in after dinner to play with the children, perhaps helping with homework or leading a craft project. At least two volunteers stay overnight, waking the guests at 6:00 a.m., helping with breakfast and making sure the morning runs smoothly.
The real heart of IHN is not in washing sheets or cooking. It is in interacting with these homeless families in a kind, loving and sensitive way. Many congregants find this a wonderful opportunity to introduce their children to the joys of doing a mitzvah. For middle class children who have never suffered a day without a meal or a night not knowing where they would sleep, it is a truly eye-opening experience to play with and enjoy other children whose lives are so completely different than their own. They often ask to come back the next night. It is a real life immersion in the social problems in our community and in how, even as children, they can help.