Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

No Room at the Inn

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

No Room at the Inn

Article excerpt

Cincinnati's faith leaders cross denominational lines to stand up to a corporate bully.

REV. SUSAN QUINN BRYAN walked into a meeting of the Friends of the Anna Louise Inn fully prepared for a room brimming with people. Instead, Bryan and the five other Presbyterian pastors she had brought with her doubled the meeting's total attendance. Bryan was stupefied.

When she moved to Cincinnati in 2005 to pastor Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, several of her congregants had taken her to the Anna Louise Inn, claiming it as one of the things they loved most about the city. And yet, in its time of need, hardly anyone had come to the Inn's rescue. It would take several minutes before an even more startling realization came to Bryan.

"As [people] began talking, I thought, 'Where's the church? How can the church stand silent while this is happening?"' she said. "So I organized a breakfast and just sent out emails to all the clergy I could find."

About 25 Cincinnati faith leaders came to Bryan's breakfast, and out of it emerged an ecumenical force, crossing denominational divides to rally behind one of Cincinnati's most revered institutions.

THE BATTLE FOR the Anna Louise Inn began in 2007 after Cincinnati Union Bethel (CUB), the social service agency that operates the Inn, decided the Inn needed updated facilities.

The Anna Louise Inn has provided hous- ing for single women since the turn of the 20th century, when women from rural areas began migrating to cities for work. In Cincinnati, single women faced rent discrim- ination from landlords who would charge them more for extra security and for the use of a bathroom apart from the one used by male tenants. Other housing was available, but it was usually in unsafe neighborhoods.

Cincinnati Union Bethel, which had been addressing urban issues in the Queen City since 1830, saw the need for safe and affordable hous- ing for women and-with a donation of land from Charles P. Taft, President William Howard Taft's son-opened the Anna Louise Inn in May 1909 in the neighborhood now known as Lytle Park. Named after Taft's daughter, the new, five-story build- ing provided housing for 120 women and was immediately at full occupancy.

Today, the Anna Louise Inn continues to provide affordable housing for single women, with monthly rent ranging from $60 to $72. Additionally, in 2006, CUB began Off the Streets, a rehabilitation program for prostitutes that offers housing, substance abuse counsel- ing, and employment assistance.

Robin Howard, 55, moved into the Inn nearly three years ago after being evicted from her home, and she said being able to stay there has been a blessing. "It meant a lot to me- knowing that I didn't have to worry," she said. "I didn't have insurance, but there's a medicine van that comes who will see anyone. I can see the doctor and get my medicines without pay- ing anything."

Furthermore, Howard said the culture of the Inn helps the women emotionally. "You are never really alone. You have a lot of other women that you get close to," she said. "It's like a little support system."

Currently, the Inn's layout resembles that of a college dorm-each room is furnished with a bed, desk, dresser, and chair. Some rooms also contain a mini-fridge and an air conditioning unit, but the women share a dining space, and there are no private bath- rooms. And although Howard said she loves her life at the Anna Louise Inn, she admit- ted the living situation can be difficult.

"It would be lovely to have privacy as far as the bathroom," she told Sojourners. "And I'd like to be able to cook in my own kitchen. That would be a dream come true."

Sought-after updates to the facility would give each woman her own apartment, com- plete with a kitchenette and a bathroom. CUB formed a board committee to examine the best possible way to make this happen- including the possibility of selling the Anna Louise Inn in order to buy a new building. …

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