What’s Your Next Move?

Ryan sat down in the day shelter for his first day on the job. He looked around at the sea of faces and didn’t know where to begin, or how to spark a conversation. Someone suggested he play a board game with a guest, so he figured he would just give it a try. He pulled out a chess board, and without knowing it, started a new Water Street tradition. 

“At the beginning I was terrible” laughs Ryan. “I was losing to everyone.” From time to time, guests would give him tips, and he got better and better. More than anything though, as his skills sharpened, he was getting into more meaningful conversations.

Where do you come from? What are your goals? And the most loaded question of all: How did you end up homeless?

There was something about chess that took hard questions, and made them easier to talk about. With chess, you don’t need to make direct eye contact. It’s slow, and meditative, and the light distraction makes getting into hard discussions much easier.

For months Ryan kept working with guests day by day, often over a game of chess. Candidly, he admits the work seemed frustratingly gradual at times. “At the beginning you are just playing and you don’t really see the daily work you do,” he says. “In construction you can see, ‘hey I built this’, at the end of the day. But in ministry and in life coaching, you don’t get to see what you did every day.”

Progress isn’t always linear. This was another lesson chess taught Ryan. One day he was playing a young man and “beating him left and right.” Ryan had taken most of his pieces, and when he looked up, the guest was about ready to give up. 

But suddenly, in one move, the guest put Ryan in checkmate. 

It wasn’t until later that night he felt the true lesson behind this match. “God revealed that even though things look bleak, and you look like you are going to lose, never give up, because your next move could be your victory.” 

When someone comes to Water Street, they can often feel like they are all out of moves. Maybe they feel like they’ve already lost. But by building trust, we can help them recognize they are in a safe place to start again. Those small moves often begin in our day shelter, having a one-on-one conversation, or playing a game of chess. And even if they don’t notice them, those moves add up to become the victory. “And then eventually, our guests are going to win the war,” says Ryan.


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