The Community Foundation’s grant panelists found much to like about the American Rescue Workers’ proposal for the Saving Grace Shelter Project. It would provide much needed emergency shelter for homeless families and would also restore purpose to the former Grace Street United Methodist Church building that had served parishioners for more than 130 years. But the deeply collaborative nature of the Saving Grace project is what ultimately persuaded the panelists to approve the $40,000 grant.
The Saving Grace project originated with the Lycoming County Family Housing Alliance—a coalition of 22 human and social service agencies. Rosann Pelleschi, Lycoming County United Ways’ Director of Funds Distribution and Community Building, who spearheads Housing Alliance projects, says, “While Lycoming County offered transitional housing for families, there were no emergency shelters to take in homeless families.” The American Rescue Workers, led by Colonels Sam and Dawn Astin, accepted Ms. Pelleschi invitation to become the lead agency for the project. The ARW was deeded the property in July 2010 and began applying for grants. More than 25 organizations, churches and businesses have contributed to the project with in-kind support—from planning and construction to client services.
The 24-bed shelter provides two separate living areas. “One side is for women and children; the other is reserved for men. But there are also privacy rooms.” says Karen Tindal-Short, Executive Director of the shelter. Admittance is on a referral basis. All residents must be screened and must agree to case management services. “We want the referring agency to stay in the process,” Ms. Tindal-Short says. “This isn’t about dropping people off at our doorstep.” City codes allow families to stay up to 14 days, but most will move on to transitional housing or permanent housing in a few days.
Saving Grace is open from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. When the shelter is closed, families are expected to be busy—the children in school or in a day care program provided by the YMCA and the parents with appointments at social service agencies, doctors, CareerLink and others who can help them regain self-sufficiency. “We are not trying to create a place of comfort,” says Col. Astin. Ms. Tindal-Short is looking for as many as 70 volunteers to help in the process of getting families back in the community. Volunteers can staff the shelter at night, provide transportation during the day or help in other jobs that keep the shelter operating.