Thanks For Giving

“Good morning, do you need a shower today, and how about any laundry…do you have laundry that needs to be cleaned?” asked Marilyn O’Bryan, one of the volunteers who helps care for the basic needs of our homeless here at Water Street.  As three homeless women stand around Marilyn with their bags of laundry, two women elect to use the showers.  Taking a heavy laundry bag out of one of the lady’s hands, Marilyn says in a motherly tone, “You can’t carry that, you’re pregnant!” 

At fourteen weeks pregnant Tanya* concedes to letting Marilyn carry her bag of clothes.  Together they walk to the shower and laundry rooms, where Marilyn will begin laundry as the women get to refresh. “When you interact with our homeless community you see what a blessing a shower is,” says Marilyn as she’s opening a new pack of razors and organizing shampoo and conditioner.

Every day men and women without a home, and who are sometimes sleeping in their car, arrive at the Community Homeless Outreach Center, the day shelter at Water Street, to get off the streets.  They have access to Life Coaches who will provide them with individual options for getting help, computers, a phone, coffee, water, breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

“When you put yourself in their shoes you realize no one else is going to do this for them,” says Marilyn as she throws a load of wet clothing into the drier.  By now the first group of women is finished with their showers.  As they walk back to the day shelter, looking rejuvenated, they thank Marilyn for being there.  Some are wearing the same clothing they arrived in, but that’s a superfluous observation upon realizing the essential value of a hot shower when you have no place to call home. 

Marilyn began volunteering at Water Street because she had the time.  She and her husband are both retired from successful engineering careers with DuPont and decided to move into a new community at Willow Valley.  They discovered Grace Community Church and quickly found Lancaster to be a great place to call home.  Today she is a strong voice for the homeless at Water Street. 

“When someone struggles with their self-worth and they see someone give of their time and resources they feel valued.  The Lord loves them, and they do add value to our world; they can make something of themselves.”

When she first began volunteering Marilyn recognized a need: the wash clothes and towels were old.  So, she asked the Pastor at Grace Community Church to ask the congregation to donate towels.  They rallied around the cause and collected about 400 new towels and washcloths.  Today those new supplies are distributed around Water Street so all guests who come here for shelter have soft fluffy towels and washcloths. 

As Marilyn folds a faded pair of jeans with holes in the pockets, she comments about what she has gleaned from her role as a volunteer, “When someone struggles with their self-worth and they see someone give of their time and resources they feel valued.  The Lord loves them, and they do add value to our world; they can make something of themselves.” 

Marilyn won’t take credit for making a homeless person’s day better, instead she simply says she is here in a support role to the staff and to the homeless; making their daily existence a little better.  “I feel blessed and so I want to give back,” Marilyn says as she gives a hairdryer to a homeless woman.


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