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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.
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.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul prayed that the church would “…[Be] strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” We are grateful for God’s strength to endure in this difficult season.
As our country and our community continues to press on in this “new normal” that the novel coronavirus has imposed upon us, the staff and guests at Water Street continue to persevere as well. We look forward to the day that we can return to the “old normal,” hopefully implementing new learnings and seizing new opportunities having grown as individuals and as an organization during this season. In the meantime, we continue to press forward, implementing all the best cleaning, disinfecting, and social distancing practices we are able in order to keep our guests and staff as safe as possible.
It has been over two weeks since our first positive case on campus. We wish we could say it was our last, and although we can’t, we are grateful that thus far, we have not had a massive spread. At this time, we have five guests and one staff member who have tested positive for COVID-19.
As you know, many of our guests have compromised health situations from years of dealing with trauma and homelessness. These health issues can make the virus even more dangerous than for the general population. We ask that you pray for our guests: for protection from the virus, for healing for those who have contracted it, and for continued wisdom in following guidelines meant to protect them and their neighbors.
We appreciate all the care and support that has been expressed toward Water Street and those in our community who are most vulnerable. We are grateful for the collaborative spirit that we have seen in the many partnerships we have been a part of during this season with other non-profits, with local government, and with churches and friends like you.
If one thing is evident during this challenging season, it is that none of us are immune to the storms and challenges of life. As a follower of Jesus in troubling times, I hold on to Philippians 4:6-7 which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Through this passage, I am reminded that we can face any obstacle or challenge with hope knowing we are not alone in it. We at Water Street have continued to lean on God during the COVID-19 pandemic while we plan, sanitize, follow CDC guidelines, and encourage and love our guests (from 6 feet away).
Last night we received news that one of our guests, who is currently quarantined in their room, has tested positive for COVID-19. We knew this was a possibility, and even a likelihood, as the virus became more and more widespread throughout our county and city. Thankfully, we have been implementing numerous practices and policies to keep our campus, our guests, and our staff as safe as possible, including frequent sterilization of all facilities, wearing of masks, new meal protocols, virtual support services, and much more.
With the new reality of a positive case on campus, we are implementing the next phase of protective policies that were developed as the virus began its spread in our state. Most of these relate to internal operations and limiting interactions of different groups of residents on campus.
One additional significant change is the requirement that all guests remain on property at all times in order to limit the possible impact to both our guests and staff and the surrounding neighborhoods. Our hope is this “self-quarantine” of our entire campus will allow us to limit the spread both within our campus community and in our neighborhood.
We are so appreciative of the many partners and supporters in the community who have stepped up to help us in this difficult season. We ask that you continue to pray with us that the impact of the virus on our campus would be minimal and that the hope of Christ would be evident even in the midst of this trial.
We are living through extraordinary times, and I am grateful to work with an extraordinary team that is demonstrating just how extraordinary they are as they rise to meet the challenges before us. All of our staff, those working on campus and those working from home, continue to give their all to ensure that we are doing our best to keep our guests safe and healthy and to provide the support they need in this season.
Water Street is also grateful that we are not walking this journey alone. Locally, we are collaborating with Lanco My Home, Tabor Community Services, CAP, the city and the county to ensure that critical services are available for our most vulnerable neighbors. Together we have partnered to provide a safe quarantine facility for guests in shelter and individuals on the street. Currently, two of our guests, who are awaiting test results, are staying at that quarantine facility so that they can be isolated and reduce the risk of spread amongst our shelter guests.
We continue to adapt and change on campus as well, as new information and guidance is available from the state, the CDC, and our partners in the community. You can see some of the changes big and small through our video updates on our Facebook page.
In the midst of the changes, one thing remains the same, Water Street is here. We are here to meet the needs of our vulnerable neighbors. We continue to provide shelter and support and 3 meals a day to the over 200 men, women and children in our shelters and residential dorms. We continue to provide food distribution to over 500 households in our community that are struggling to make ends meet. We continue to connect with the teens, children and families that are a part of Teen Haven and Wonder Club – even if we have to do it through Zoom and home delivery of activities. And most importantly, we are here to remind all of our guests that there is a Prince of Peace in the midst of what feels like a chaotic world.
Your prayers mean so much to us. Knowing that this community is praying for our team helps give strength to our staff as they continue to serve, and helps our guests feel loved and cared for. We want to invite you to join us in prayer for everyone in Lancaster who may be experiencing homelessness. Please sign up to show your support, and join us in prayer from wherever you are, on Wednesday April 8th, at 12:00pm.
Thank you for standing with us in these extraordinary times.
As we are all experiencing, our reality and circumstances in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to change daily (if not hourly). We are grateful that in the midst of it all, we are a ministry that depends first and foremost on the God who never changes. And although He never changes, and our call to serve our most vulnerable neighbors never changes, the way we do our work does.
Here at Water Street, we continue to strictly follow guidance from the CDC, our local health care partners, and our government officials. As Pennsylvania has increased its restrictions on non-life-sustaining businesses, Water Street remains open to serve our guests. We are considered a critical Social Assistance facility and we need to continue to serve those in our care. We have adapted our operations to ensure that we are minimizing social contact and maintaining the healthiest possible environment for our guests and staff.
Many of our staff who have higher risk health statuses are supporting our work from home in order to remain healthy and we have paused a number of our support services not critical for health and safety. We continue to provide emotional and spiritual support and practical guidance to our guests through virtual one-on-one meetings, while utilizing on site staff to maintain clean and sterile facilities and serve primary needs.
Our team is equipped to assess and screen the health of our guests to ensure early identification, including testing any guests that may show symptoms of COVID-19. We have established a quarantine protocol if needed and are working with community partners to identify ways to continuously improve our options.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have clearly seen God’s hand blessing our ministry and the people we serve. Numerous local businesses and community partners have reached out to assist us even as they struggle to know how their own businesses will be affected long-term. We are so grateful for the heart of compassion and the generosity displayed by our community even in this difficult time. In this season, we continue to rely on the generosity of our community to be able to serve our most vulnerable neighbors. We ask for your continued prayers for our staff and guests, and for your continued support to ensure we can serve our guests to the best of our capacity.
We would like to begin by saying we greatly appreciate the care and concern members of the community have expressed for the guests residing at Water Street. As a ministry that offers shelter and healthcare, it has been our long term practice to provide the highest standards of care in line with state and CDC standards.
Through the generosity of our community, we have been able to develop facilities that allow us to follow such guidelines. This is no more highlighted than through our new shelter, Providence, which opened in the fall of 2019. This facility allows us to implement key measures such as continual air filtering and anti-microbial barrier points. Needless to say, this new facility has been instrumental in improving the physical and emotional welfare of our guests.
In addition to these measures we have initiated several proactive steps of our own in light of COVID-19. With the rise of the virus, our Leadership Team has been receiving regular updates from the PA Department of Health and the CDC, and we are working in close partnership with Penn Medicine and Lancaster General Health for best practices for prevention. These include designated spaces for quarantine, increased cleaning, disinfecting and meal delivery.
We ask for your on-going prayers for our staff and volunteers, that they remain healthy so that there will be as little service disruption as possible to those in need in our community.
Vice President of Health Services | Training & Education