People are congregating outside, talking and smoking. A small crowd sits in the lounge, watching the evening news and waiting for a receptionist to allow more people to file into the small dining room. The Inter-Faith Council Community House serves three hot meals a day, 365 days a year, and offers temporary lodging for at least 56 people nightly.
Tonight, the shelter's menu consists of beef pasta, collard greens, salad, peaches and a pastry along with a choice of water or hot chocolate to drink. Some eat alone. Others -- the regulars -- congregate together and discuss their days.
Donald, wearing an old jacket, blue jeans and a skull cap, sits alone and eats quietly.
Forty-two years old, he grew up in New York City and moved to Raleigh in 1997 to be closer to his mother. Donald said that when he was 19, he contracted HIV. He says doctors have told him that being homeless likely will affect his immune system. But Donald points out that his circumstances are not his choice, adding that he believes he is in good health in spite of his lifestyle.
Since moving to the area, Donald has held a few jobs but has mainly spent his time in homeless shelters throughout the Triangle. "After a while, it doesn't get hard," Donald says in a raspy New York accent. "It gets normal -- like, this is just the way it is. But I know -- putting it in perspective -- that this is not the way it is. But after a while, you just think this is the way it's supposed to be -- this is how I'm supposed to live."
Donald moved to Chapel Hill from Raleigh several weeks ago, hoping there would be more opportunities for him to find work and receive medical care at UNC Hospitals. Donald has been staying at the IFC shelter for several weeks. "Man, but it starts to smell," he says, laughing. "Especially once people take off their shoes. You'll get used to it. But once you walk outside you'll realize how bad it smells in here."
But Donald recently was given a bed in the upstairs part of the shelter, which is reserved for more permanent residents.
The IFC shelter has 56 beds that people are given depending on their situation. If temperatures drop below 40 degrees, the shelter officials will allow people to sleep on the floor in the lounge and the dining area on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"It's like I took one step, and they took two steps, and that made me feel really good," Donald says, referring to the volunteers who offered him a spot upstairs that he thinks will help him get back on his feet. "They gave me a bed, even though I'm on the top bunk and the guy below me stinks."