It is 2am on Monday April 2, and I’m “on duty” during the last night of the Women’s Winter Shelter program at the YWCA in Lancaster. Daryl and Abeba are sleeping nearby. This is the last night of Blossom Hill’s commitment AND the very last night of the shelter for this year.
On the gym floor in the room next to where I’m sitting there are about 20 women sleeping on mat s on the floor. Earlier in the week, there were close to 30. As they came in this evening, several lamented that this was the last night of the temporary winter shelter. It seems that a community has formed among some of them.
The first night , we hosted a young mother and her 5 children, between the ages of 8 and about 16 months. The 8 year old needed to work on his homework before getting settled for the night. The next night, we hosted a different mother with her 3 children also including an 8 year old with homework . I had a hard time falling asleep those nights when I got home to my own bed, because of trying to wrap my mind around what it must be life to care for children when there is no “place.”
I am grateful to Lancaster County Council o f Churches for facilitating this program which was birthed a number of years ago as a temporary solution to homelessness during the winter months. Up until this year, the shelter was rotated between churches who would provide space for the women for one or more weeks. For example, James Street Mennonite was a shelter location and East Chestnut Street Mennonite volunteered at their location as well because of more suitable facilities. This is the first year that they decided to house the shelter at the YWCA on Lime Street, with churches volunteering to serve as shelter workers. It certainly was better for the women who came to stay, but more difficult for the LCCC coordinator. I’m sure overall evaluations will take place before next year’s plans are made.
I am very grateful to Pastor Michelle for carrying the bulk of the leader role for us . . . and for finding additional volunteers beyond our church. A special thank you to St. Andrews United Church of Christ for sharing part of the week with us. And from Blossom Hill . . . thank you to Abeba, Daryl, Susan, Ve rlen , Marie, Monica, Soila, Doug, Tina, Steve, Liz, Melissa R, Melissa P, Kayla, Sue , Michael, and Maria who volunteered to host . . . and Marie, Ruth and Ryan who donated snacks.
I am most grateful that this experience has brought me closer to the reality of those who are homeless in our city. Now I recognize faces and know some of their names. I also think differently about my bed when I crawl into it . . . tired at the end of the day.
May God’s mercy carry us all — those without a home — and those of us who can’t imagine not having a home.