Friday, January 25, 2008

Patronage at Community Homeless Outreach Center Nearly Triples Since Opening

A visit to the Community Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC) on the premises of the Water Street Rescue Mission reveals that the number of homeless and vagrants using that facility has appreciably increased since the facility's debut in late November.

CHOC Director Adrian Rodriguez reports, "We are actually averaging, as of last week, about 64 drop-ins per week."

Rodriguez went on to say that Tuesday was their busiest day so far, with 79 different people using the shelter.

The center is a daytime drop-in facility, open from 9:30 am to 4 pm offering showers, bathrooms, laundry facilities, water and coffee, small-item storage, and just a warm place to sit down for anyone in need of such services.

"We help fulfill some of the gap needs," Rodriguez explained, including assistance finding a job, referral to other social service providers, and securing housing.

Indeed, "Both national and local studies have shown that the quicker you get them into housing, the quicker everything else in their situation gets better," said Lenny Walton, Chair of the Center's Steering Committee. "One thing that people need is small, affordable rental housing and we really don't have that here in Lancaster County, " he said.

"The idea [of the Center] is to provide that linkage to the services that are already there," Walton continued.

Users of the facility are appreciative of having a place to come inside and hang out.

One gentleman indicated that his stay at the center is a "stepping stone" for him, as he recently moved to the area from Reading and is trying to find a place to live.

When asked where he goes at night, he indicated that some of the Center's partner organizations - mostly local churches, offer overnight shelter on a rotating basis. This week it's at James Street Mennonite Church in the City's northwest.

It is also primarily the churches and partner organizations who offer free meals. Water Street Rescue Mission also offers meals to residents enrolled in some of its programs. "Non-residents need a meal ticket by going to Chapel at 7:30 pm." an information sheet explained.

Another person, who has been without a home for about 3 weeks said, "I can take a bath, get coffee," and "they have mental health assistance."

"On Fridays, Adrian brings out the big tv screen and we can watch movies," he added.

A middle-aged woman said she has been using the facility since January 14th, after having lost her home in a legal dispute.

It has been observed that the Duke Street Library had been attracting some of the homeless, an observation Walton shared; but he thinks fewer have been there since the CHOC opened. "I think some of the people you're seeing may be there for the breakfast at St. James," he volunteered.

For their part, the library staff didn't seem to be bothered by the homeless population.

Director of Development for the Lancaster Public Library Paul Landry indicated, "The homeless are not a greater source of disruption than anyone else... I don't think we have any issues that other urban libraries don't have to deal with."