We know women who come to us for help, have experienced trauma. Whether from a difficult or unsafe environment, or from the trauma of homelessness itself, the journey through our doors is not easy. Our goal is to meet each woman with a loving environment, so they know they are in a safe place. We aim to equip women with the tools and mindsets needed to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.
Our Women’s Shelter consists of both emergency shelter in Providence Shelter, as well as Residential Shelter for those enrolling in our longer-term residential programs. In both, guests have access to Case Managers and Life Coaches who help them access resources and design plans to move forward. Guests in our residential programs, however, have a higher level of engagement with on-campus classes, creating individualized action plans, and enrolling in full-time life-recovery courses.
On average we have 50 children on campus at any given moment. Moms with kids always stay in residential family style dorms, regardless of whether they are here for emergency shelter, or residential programs. Our team of Life Coaches work to support and uphold parenting first and foremost, equipping moms to feel fully present – emotionally and mentally – for their children.
Our Children’s Ministry provides a safe, fun space for children in families in our Residential Program. Kids will find help with homework, lessons focused on understanding the character of God, plus crafts and playtime.
It’s a place for a kid to be a kid during what might be a challenging season of life.
When Tanya* came to the Children’s Ministry at Water Street, Miss Ginger prayed about how to handle her. She would kick and hit her mom, refusing to obey. She wouldn’t receive compliments the staff would try to give her but hang her head low. “I was feeling discouraged one day and asked for prayer from a coworker” Miss Ginger shared.
She knew the days were busy and chaotic and wanted to make sure that the spiritual time was also occurring. That same day, Tanya came up to Miss Ginger and said, “Miss Ginger, will you read me a story about Jesus?” and pointed to the children’s Bible. “This little girl has grown in leaps and bounds!” Miss Ginger proclaimed. Obviously, the spiritually important items were still happening and sinking in.
Tanya’s mom was experiencing back pain, and Tanya suggested they pray and ask Jesus to heal it. She told her mom she wasn’t sure how to pray, and her mom helped lead her in a prayer for healing, even though they didn’t have any Christian background. Tanya’s mom now reads to her from the children’s Bible every night. “Tanya has the most hunger for learning about God that I’ve seen,” Miss Ginger said. “She has changed so much and is now one of my favorite students.”
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.
For Samantha, the path to homelessness started with depression and addictions. It wasn’t until she was hospitalized, when she realized that she was lost and tired of the life she was leading. Her home life had enabled and contributed to her waywardness, so with nowhere to go, when she was discharged from the hospital, she came to Water Street Mission.
Samantha began developing strong relationships with her case worker, staff members, and other guests. These connections were instrumental in helping her get back on her feet.
“The people here, like the workers, the staff and some of the residents, take a lot of personal time and they show a lot of compassion helping you get to the root of what’s wrong. Because it’s just not on the surface, it’s underneath,” she says.
Samantha has since grown in her relationship to Jesus and received a full scholarship to Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology where she is currently pursuing a degree in Business.
Gertina had reached the point of exhaustion. Growing up in New York and raising a family in a dangerous area, situations had led her to relocate to Lancaster in hopes of a better life for her children.
Instead, her depression worsened and her living conditions became increasingly unstable as she bounced from apartment to apartment. She reached out to Water Street for help and found the dignity and support she needed to overcome her obstacles.
Through a difficult life journey – including the devastating loss of a daughter – Gertina had lost her faith in God. But as her spiritual foundation strengthened, the staff supported Gertina in building life skills and a network of support. Now she is empowered to care for her kids, saying “Water Street is the best place to be. They will do a lot for you. They will listen to you … They do the best they can to be by your side.”
We serve more than 170 guests a night, with an average of 50 of children. Our aim is to help each one experience renewal in their lives.
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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.
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.