Mission of service put to work at winter homeless shelter
If an organization spends countless hours and enormous amounts of energy preparing for an event, and no one shows up, it might be unsettling. Unless, of course, the event is the opening of a homeless shelter.
On Monday, Nov. 28, when the doors opened at the Elizabethtown emergency winter shelter, not one soul entered in. Though preparing and running the facility is a lot of work with a continual need for volunteers, the hope is it’s not necessary this season, said Kendra Smith, senior social work major at Elizabethtown College.
Last winter, the first for the shelter, 18 individuals were guests from mid-December to mid-March.
As a social work major, Smith has “had an interest in homelessness, the large number of individuals and those things that impact the system,” she said in a recent phone interview. “I have a lot of passion about homelessness and homeless policy.”
I have a lot of passion about homelessness and homeless policy.”
In a past year, Smith said she earned Signature Learning Experience (SLE) credits when she interned with the county’s homeless at Water Street Rescue mission—a Lancaster City shelter, where Elizabethtown residents would need to go if the E-town facility didn’t exist. This year, as she completes 600 internship hours, Smith set her sights on the E-town shelter to explore areas of the field of social work.
The two-hour volunteer training, she said, included discussions on general issues surrounding homelessness and important information on public perception about those who seek emergency shelter. “We talked about the process they go through when they come in,” she said of residents.
The most important insight Smith garnered from the training was the need for positivity, she said. Rather than talking down to or pitying those who come to the shelter, volunteers should treat the situation as a new beginning. “We talked about the appropriate things to say, the ways to give empowerment, a way of looking forward and progressing,” Smith said.
The winter shelter is an effort of E-town Community Housing and Outreach Services (ECHOS) formed this past summer with the approval of a Lancaster County Human Services Block Grant. It’s a perfect fit for faculty and staff members who are looking for avenues to fulfill the College’s Educate for Service motto and for students to earn one of their required SLEs—real-world learning opportunities that complement classroom learning and provide pathways to productive careers and lives beyond college.
In addition to the shelter, ECHOS also offers preventative services to those who might be facing eviction and help for those residing at the shelter to find permanent and stable housing, Smith said. With these efforts in place the hope is the shelter’s population significantly decreases.
Housed at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, on Locust Street, in Elizabethtown, the shelter maintains three volunteer shifts, which, thankfully, are all filled by community members, students and faculty and staff members.