Contagious Joy

Born in the Bronx in 1952, Santiago Milland didn’t have an easy childhood. After his father left when he was 2, he had several step fathers and step siblings. Some of his “father figures” had alcohol problems and were extremely harsh in punishing the kids.

At 17, Santiago enlisted in the military. At 18, he married a lady he would forever describe as an “angel.” He recalled occasionally giving money to her so that she could buy herself a special dress only to discover that she spent it on nice things for the kids.

After 12 years of service, Santiago returned to the Bronx and bought a club. Repeating patterns he witnessed while growing up, he developed a dependence on drugs and alcohol, but eventually cleaned himself up to be a better father for his 3 children and 2 adopted nephews. He even became a counselor for teenagers and taught tennis to underprivileged youth at a nearby park. He felt great being able to help others.

“Happiness is something that can be taken from you, but joy that comes from God stays with you. You own it and it’s yours forever.”

However, life would take another steep downturn for Santiago as his wife passed away after 38 years of marriage and he became depressed, moved to Lancaster City, and once again fell into drugs and alcohol, even dealing in order to support his habit. This resulted in his arrest and a 6 month jail term, as well as a big wake up call for Santiago. In his words, “I thought I wanted to die and then realized that I didn’t.”

When he was released Santiago came directly to Water Street Mission where he said he experienced a different kind of love … love from strangers who he said, “took their time, their words and their feelings and passed them on to me even though I thought I was worthless.” Santiago surrendered himself fully to God and became actively involved in all he could, to grow, to learn and to serve others. He became closer to his children and grandchildren and he graduated from what was, at that time, the Life Recovery Program.

It was an incredibly happy day when Santiago moved out. He chose a place nearby so he could be near family and return every day to Water Street to volunteer, and he made sure it had enough space so that he could offer rooms to others who were ready to move out. Eventually, health issues would cause Santiago to return to Water Street, but even as his health was failing, he continued to volunteer and kept sharing with others about his deep joy in Christ.

Santiago said, “I’ve never felt more joy in my life than I’ve had in my time at The Mission – other than when my children were born and when I got married.” He brought that joy with him everywhere he went. Just as he felt that love from those who took care of him at Water Street, he freely gave love to everyone he met, always sharing the reason for his joy.

Even as disease was destroying his body, the light inside him couldn’t be contained and he remained positive – always looking for ways to bless others. Santiago Milland went home to be with the Lord and be reunited with his “angel” on January 11th. While he is greatly missed by family, staff, guests, and volunteers, we’re thankful that he finished strong…truly experiencing God’s love and restoration…and helping others experience God’s love as well!


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