Leaving Poverty

When Jose was in the third grade he moved into a room at Water Street Ministries also known as the Mission.  He didn’t want to be called “homeless” and he didn’t want to be called a “shelter kid”.  Those were some of the things he remembers.  Beyond that, Jose looks back on that year of eating, sleeping, and growing at the Mission with the feeling that it kept his family together. 

“We were always in poverty, but we never felt defeated,” recalls Jose.  His mom, his two sisters and two brothers, arrived at Water Street in 1989 after his dad was incarcerated.  During the day Jose would walk across the street to go to school.  It was hard, he says, because he didn’t want his classmates to know where he was living. 

His perfect plan was not for me to not have a dad growing up, but because of His mercy, grace and love God takes those moments and uses people as a vessel to share His journey.  God is about redeeming.

As an eight-year-old, living at a shelter was really difficult. It was important to Jose and his siblings to protect their dignity and to show others there was more to a person than their address.  In the evenings Jose remembers spending time in the Women’s Shelter with his family.  It was the best his mom could do at the time, and Jose knew it.  She let them know in simple ways.  One time she shared a chocolate bar by breaking off pieces until it was gone, but never taking her own piece.  Jose remembers little things like that when he thinks about his mom’s efforts to keep them fed and in safe shelter.

One of his third grade classmates invited Jose to Teen Haven, just a block away from Water Street Ministries.  This youth center was different than the others he had visited.  It was a place for kids to engage in programs that would equip them to be future leaders in their families and communities, while inviting them into a relationship with God.  Jose didn’t realize that invitation would change his life.

Jose looks back on his years growing up in the city and remembers having a safe place to go. “I had a place of refuge, a place to escape with basketball, overnight camps and the option to eat dinners at the home of a great Teen Haven staff member. There are some godly men at the youth center,” said Jose.  Eventually Jose and his family moved out of the Mission and began their new life at another address in Lancaster city—one they called home until Jose moved out after his high school graduation.

“We were always in poverty, but we never felt defeated,” recalls Jose.  His mom, his two sisters and two brothers, arrived at Water Street in 1989 after his dad was incarcerated.”

Today Jose is a husband, a father and a leader in Lancaster city as the Field Director at Teen Haven.  It’s the exact same youth center where he found acceptance and support in as a kid and then as a young adult.  Now, nearly two decades later, Jose gets to guide Lancaster’s next generation of teens to focus on their potential.  Jose looks back on his journey and humbly says it all began at the Mission.

“It all started as a journey from homelessness when I was eight years old, but there was an opportunity to walk through a door because God had a journey planned.  His perfect plan was not for me to not have a dad growing up, but because of His mercy, grace and love God takes those moments and uses people as a vessel to share His journey.  God is about redeeming.  There is nothing special about me; God had everything to do with my life.”


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