City, county and nonprofit staff hustled to relocate the Lancaster County Food Hub’s emergency shelter on Wednesday following a heating outage.
The 40-bed low-barrier shelter was expected to be up and running by evening and ready to welcome guests at the former Benjamin Roberts furniture store at 232 N. Prince St., following the rapid crosstown move from its previous location at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The boiler at the church, 701 N. Lime St., unexpectedly failed Tuesday night.
As soon as it became clear that repairs would take time, authority and city leaders made the decision to relocate, said Justin Eby, executive director of the Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority, which houses the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition.
The vacant former furniture store belongs to developer Ben Lesher’s company Parcel B. He is looking to build a six-story, 130-unit apartment building there, but nothing will start until at least next spring, and the building is available in the meantime.
“I’m happy to help out,” Lesher said.
Arrangements were made quickly. Food Hub, authority and city Public Works staff loaded the shelter’s mattresses, bed frames and other materials onto a pair of pickup trucks with flatbed trailers. Other items went into a Lancaster County Food Hub van.
By mid-afternoon, everything was being brought in and stacked at 232 N. Prince St. Supervisors were busily brainstorming a layout: Men’s dormitory on this side, women’s on that side, storage back here.
The building is fully sprinklered and all of its systems — plumbing, heating, lighting and so on — are fully operational and up to code. Moreover, it’s in the central business district, where temporary shelters are permitted by right.
In the next few days, Parcel B and the redevelopment authority will finalize and sign a temporary lease. The details, including the lease duration and financial arrangements, are still being worked out, Eby said.
“Right now, the immediate concern is making sure we have the shelter space available,” he said.
While the location has changed, the signup process has not, said Paige McFarling, the Food Hub’s executive director. Individuals who need shelter should still start by coming to the Food Hub’s daytime drop-in center or a referring agency, not to the overnight shelter.
Meanwhile, Ebenezer Baptist Church is working diligently to resolve the heating issue, the Rev. Devon Tremaine Forbes said.
The outage came as a surprise, as did the Food Hub’s decision to relocate the shelter. The church had purchased some space heaters for it, he said, and “we were knocked for a loop” when people came in and began moving things out.
“We are looking at every available avenue so that we can once again host the shelter as we have since 2020,” Forbes said.
The church’s worship services and its various community outreach programs will continue without interruption, he said.
The emergency shelter opened at Ebenezer Baptist Church in July 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, with an initial capacity of 20 beds. The Lancaster County Food Hub took over its management 13 months later, the result of a request for proposals issued by the homelessness coalition.
The shelter is open from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week. The Food Hub’s daytime center operates from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.
(Editor’s Note: This article was updated Nov. 15 to add the Rev. Forbes’ comments, and to correct when the boiler failed.)