Broken Chains: Mark Noel, Manager of Guest Education

After Mark made the decision to go into counseling, he knew it would be hard to leave his love of teaching behind. He had taught in Lancaster schools for over 17 years.

What he didn’t expect was how clearly God would use his love of both here at Water Street. When he started as a counselor over 10 years ago, not only did he get to work one-on-one with guests, but he had the chance to keep teaching as well.

Now both of these skills play a big role in his position as Manager of Guest Education where Mark oversees Water Street’s on campus classes. Through these classes many of our guests will have a chance to pause and really explore what has been going on inside them—what has lead them into these difficult situations.

It’s different for every person.

Our Core Longings

Years ago, Water Street created the image of a Tree, to help explain our whole-person approach. A traditional approach to overcoming homelessness looks at behavior…trying to change habits and actions first. But just like a damaged root system effects the whole tree, we can’t change our life-trajectory without addressing our broken hearts.

Through teaching and preparing classes, Mark wants to help guests understand where their core longings have been damaged. Desires for purpose, security, significance, understanding, love and belonging. Because Mark and his team base their counseling on scripture, he teaches these core longings are central to all of us—not just those of us experiencing outward problems like homelessness or food insecurity.

Without understanding how we all long for each of these things in our own way, we can’t really understand why so many return to the same life controlling issues. It’s like trying to put out a fire with your bare hands, “when you’re standing right next to a fire extinguisher,” Mark explains.

Not to say any of this is easy. For many who are dealing with years and years of a crushing self-image, the process can feel more like an uphill battle, taking them through some extremely vulnerable places. Mark remembers a man who struggled with an addiction that began in childhood. One day he confessed he often imagined himself in a cage where no matter what he did, he seemed to keep craving the love and acceptance he never received as a child.

It took time for this man to change this idea of himself, and finally see himself as a child of God instead of a prisoner. “It’s a process,” Mark explains, “it’s a continual challenging of that thought.” Mark’s classes—classes like False Belief’s, Biblical Life Management and Relentless Grace—help guests get to the bottom of their hurt and pain.

What Mark ultimately wants people to know is no matter where you are, you can’t solve your problems apart from Christ because only He can fulfill each one of our core longings. Mark’s goal is to help each person experience what that freedom feels like for themselves. “I love freedom. I love to see chains that have been broken at the cross,” he says.


“I love freedom. I love to see chains that have been broken at the cross.”



An Update from Jack 5/4/2020


Dear Friends,

Throughout this season, we have encountered a number of challenges in operating our shelter safely. Thankfully we have been blessed to see no community spread among our guests. This is due not only to the work of our team, but also the ways that upgrades to our facilities came at just the right time.

For example, Providence Shelter, which opened in November 2019, provides additional spacing and a top-tier air filtration system. We have also been able to implement the same air filtration standards in our dining hall prior to the most recent wave of COVID.

Because a high percentage of our guests have preexisting health conditions, we have had to be diligent in our safety protocols, doing our best to ensure their safety. For us that has included implanting all CDC disinfecting, masking and social distancing from the very beginning. This has led to major changes in roles and responsibilities of staff. Staff have taken over disinfecting in shifts all over campus. They have also delivered much of our support services and programs through zoom, hosting counseling sessions and classes virtually and meeting in-person with plexi-glass dividers only when necessary.

For meals, we’ve changed preparation and delivery to help minimize interaction of guests who live in different facilities. At times that has meant delivering meals to certain Residential Floors so we can keep smaller groups in the dining hall. We have also had to restrict guests’ travel on and off campus to only essential trips such as going to work, the doctors, shopping etc., in order to minimize unnecessary exposure.

Another change in this season has been how we do intakes. Currently, the intake process requires new guests to be tested for COVID-19. They await their test results in a separate temporary shelter we have set up, before entering Providence Emergency Shelter.

All of these changes have been made while severely limiting the number of volunteers on campus. At one point, all volunteering was completely put on hold. Now, we are running with a third of our normal volunteers.

And it’s been tiring, for both staff and guests. We have had times where many staff were working remotely due to their own health risks. Other times where staff or guests have been quarantined due to exposures. But even with all of the schedule changes, increased overtime, and cross-shift working, our team has done an amazing job persevering through all of the challenges.

What to Expect This Winter Typically we have over 200 total guests on campus, over 100 in our Residential Programs over and 100 in our Emergency Shelters. Although our Residential capacity remains about the same, we have had to reduce the available beds in Providence Shelter to ensure safe spacing overnight from about 75 to 55.

Winter always presents its own challenges, so we anticipate this year will be no different. Women in our Providence Shelter have moved over to the shelter at St. Mary’s across the street, run by the Lancaster Food Hub. During their stay there they have full access to all of our services, including showers, food and staff support. Not only does having women shift to St. Mary’s enable us to free up additional beds for men, it will help us keep the shelter populations separate and limit the risk of spread.

Thank You We have been so encouraged by the support we have received this year. Without a community coming around us and our guests, we would not be able to keep our guests safe and continue to guide them in their restoration journeys. We truly couldn’t do what we do without you.

Jack Crowley