The winter shelter is an overnight accommodation for women and children during the cold weather from December through March.
The shelter was created in 2003 in response to a shortage of emergency beds in Lancaster County for people experiencing homelessness. When the model was presented, Lancaster City congregations rallied to offer a warm place for men, women, and children to sleep. The shelter moved weekly from church to church. Early on, ECSMC partnered with James Street Mennonite to use their space, since our basement wasn’t big enough.
This church-based solution worked fairly well for a while, although moving supplies each week, making sure everyone who needed the shelter knew where it was located, and maintaining consistency from place to place was challenging and chaotic.
The Lancaster County Council of Churches continues to manage the shelter, providing a coordinator and supplies, but many changes have taken place over the years. The shelter is now exclusively for women and children; in 2015-16, 20-25 individuals used the shelter each night. Lancaster’s emergency shelter for men is at Water Street Ministries. The YWCA on Lime Street generously allows the shelter to use their space, so we no longer are moving from place to place. ECSMC supplies 4-5 volunteers a night for 7-10 nights each winter.
The winter shelter has always been seen as a temporary solution. The Coalition to End Homelessness is working to eliminate the need for such a shelter by working to rehouse people very quickly. In addition, people who are homeless or who are in danger of losing their homes can now call 211 at the United Way, and they are directed to one of the city’s housing programs. In the interim, the winter shelter continues to be an important part of our county’s efforts to address homelessness.